Year in Review: NU’s top stories from 2021-22


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

The 2021-22 academic year was marked by consistent student activism, celebrations of returning to in-person activities and changing COVID-19 guidelines.

Isabel Funk, Summer Editor

In Northwestern’s first year fully in person since 2019, students saw evolutions in COVID-19 policies, labor fights across campus and a range of student protests. Organizations were also able to gather in person and host campus traditions, allowing students to come together for the first time in more than a year and a half.

While these are just some of the most notable events of the 2021-22 academic year that shaped the NU community, we’re giving you a rundown to help understand the current state of the University. 


In the second full year since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 continued to impact campus life.

Students returned to in-person classes in fall 2021 with a vaccine and masking requirement. After more than a year of primarily remote learning, freshmen participated in Wildcat Welcome, while sophomores were invited to take part in Wildcat Welcome Back.

Throughout the year, students living on campus quarantined in 1835 Hinman Ave. upon receiving a positive test result.

With the rise of the omicron variant in December and a surge in the campus positivity rate at the end of fall, Winter Quarter 2022 started off with Wildcat Wellness, a two-week modified quarantine during which all classes were held remotely, dining halls provided to-go options and all activities were limited. The University also instituted a booster shot requirement and modified quarantine requirements to allow students to test out of quarantine with a negative result by the fifth day. 

After reporting a new single-week high in cases early in the quarter, the University lifted the masking requirement in common spaces near the end of the quarter. By spring 2022, the University lifted the classroom mask requirement.

With no masking requirements, the University saw its highest-ever positivity rate during Spring Quarter 2022. As students participated in revived traditions like Dillo Day, those in quarantine housing were assigned roommates as the COVID-19 case count grew.

Throughout the year, some students protested changes to policy, calling for more caution to protect immunocompromised community members.

Student advocacy

Student activism remained a constant through the year. Fall kicked off with more than a thousand students gathering on the fraternity quad in September to protest Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon after multiple reports of alleged druggings at the houses. The action was part of an ongoing movement on campus to abolish Greek life. In response to the alleged druggings, the University immediately banned all Interfraternity Council members from hosting social activities or recruitment events until mid-October. The ban was later extended until the start of Winter Quarter 2022.

During a November 2021 football game, student protesters from several activist groups stormed the field holding banners calling for the abolition of University Police and divestment from warmaking companies. 

Two days after the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance painted The Rock in celebration of Native American Heritage Month in November 2021, the painting was defaced with anti-Indigenous vandalism. NAISA and the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research held an affinity space for reflection and hosted an impromptu gathering at The Rock to provide support to the Indigenous community. Later that week, NAISA released a set of demands to the University.

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine organized in February to call for the University to boycott Sabra products. Organizers created a petition, which garnered more than 300 signatures, and hung a banner above the entrance to Norris University Center. SJP organizers said Sabra’s parent company funds the Israel Defense Forces.

SJP also hosted a vigil in April to honor Palestinian lives lost to violence from Israeli forces. More than 70 community members attended the vigil, and organizers stayed behind afterward to paint The Rock. 

Labor organizing

NU dining and service workers voted to authorize a strike during Fall Quarter 2021 as they engaged in conversations with Compass Group, the University’s food-service provider, to renegotiate their contract. In an effort to bring Compass back to the bargaining table, 95% of about 200 workers voted in favor of a strike. Workers demanded an increased wage and consistent health insurance coverage.

NU Graduate Workers, which represents graduate students but is not formally recognized by the University as a union, organized to support the dining and service workers. Nearly 30 days later, workers voted to ratify a new contract that included a minimum hourly wage of $19.88 and a permanent extension of health insurance benefits. 

A group of library workers publicly announced its unionization in October 2021 after more than a year of private deliberation. The union gained formal recognition by the National Labor Relations Board after members voted to unionize in December 2021. The union has since entered into bargaining meetings with management.

Personnel changes

University President Morton Schapiro planned to conclude his tenure at the end of August after 13 years at NU. In October 2021, the University announced then-University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank would be NU’s 17th president. But in July, Blank told the community she could not take on the role after she received a cancer diagnosis. Schapiro agreed to stay on until a successor is selected.

Former Vice President for Student Affairs Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, who had worked at NU since 2012, departed the University on Aug. 1 for a role with the Indiana University system. She was replaced by interim Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Lampkin, who spent the last four decades working at the University of Virginia.

Legal challenges

NU is among 17 U.S. private universities being sued by former students for allegedly engaging in a price-fixing cartel to artificially reduce or eliminate financial aid and increase the net price of attendance for financial aid recipients. Filed in January and amended in February, the lawsuit also alleges nine of the universities, including NU, have considered financial circumstances of applicants and their families as an admissions factor.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against the University regarding its retirement plans for employees. In the case, NU workers accused the University of violating federal law by placing high fees and poor investments on their retirement plans.

Activities return

Students were able to celebrate annual traditions in person again this year. In the fall, the University welcomed parents and families back to campus for Family Weekend, which had not occurred since 2019. NU hosted programming for parents and families to get to know their students’ new home.

A&O Productions was able to host concerts and events throughout the year, kicking off by bringing WILLOW to campus to headline A&O Blowout in October. For its Fall Speaker Event, it hosted former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants Shea Couleé and Alyssa Edwards. In May, Flo Milli and Dreamer Isioma performed at the A&O Ball.

Students returned to the tent for NU Dance Marathon in March, an event where students dance for 30 hours to raise money for local organizations. In 2022, NUDM raised $580,778 for Chicago Youth Programs and the Evanston Community Foundation.

Mayfest Productions brought Sean Kingston, Remi Wolf, Dominic Fike and others to the stage for the 50th Dillo Day in May. The first in-person Dillo Day since 2019 brought huge crowds of students to the Lakefill, despite heavy rain early in the day.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabeldfunk

Related Stories:

Welcome to Hotel Hinman: Students in Quarantine and Isolation share experiences

‘No more excuses’: 2,000 students protest Greek life after series of reported druggings at fraternity houses

Dillo Day 50 brings back the rodeo and live music to the Lakefill