Northwestern University students will be expected to complete a quarter-long course in the “Social Inequalities and Diversities Curriculum” as a graduation-requirement. According to a report released on February 26, they will also be subject to a vaguely defined “Co-Curricular Requirement,” or a weekly discussion outside of class on the topic of social inequality. Students will be expected to complete both within their first two years at the school.
Though situated in the highly diverse and notoriously liberal suburb of Evanston, over the years Northwestern’s campus has been no stranger to controversies of race. In 1999 former Men’s Basketball Coach Rick Byrdson was murdered just off campus by a member of the white supremacist “Creativity Movement,” inspiring much dialogue on campus about societal race-relations.
More recently, Northwestern students have been in the news for appearing in black-face at a Halloween party, organizing a drinking competition that has since been dubbed the “racist Olympics,” and spewing racist slurs against a fellow Latin-American student.
In response to these events the University has attempted several times to initiate a dialogue on campus on the importance of racial tolerance and sensitivity. Just last year, the University created a new administration-level position of “Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion.” In addition, since 2000 Northwestern has had a Faculty Diversity Committee, charged with creating concrete new proposals for increasing diversity at Northwestern.
Each June, the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Patricia Tellus-Irvin, must release a report that details specific actions she and Assistant Provost will take in the coming year to improve diversity on campus. Finally, after tensions came to a boiling point last spring a new “University Diversity Council” was formed, which just a week ago announced several new proposals to take effect in the coming years.
Yet some students believe Northwestern has not done all it could to combat racism and promote diversity on campus. In response to an incident last month in which a black teddy-bear was hung by a noose inside the office of a black professor, NU4DiversityNow, For Members Only (a black student-group) and ALIANZA (a Latin-American student-group) organized a “March Against Northwestern’s Racism.” On the event’s Facebook page are many pictures of 1960’s era Civil Rights’ rallies, and the official event description references Northwestern’s “hegemonic culture,” which “perpetuates racist and sexist ideals that inhibit our [students] ability to thrive socially and academically.”
Several commenters expressed discomfort with the group’s tone during the event, with one student lamenting “Hate breeds Hate. Anger creates Anger, no matter the color/race of the person perpetuating it.”
The proposals set forth last week by the Diversity Council, however, would appear to contradict these students’ claims that Northwestern is a racist institution. In fact, given the broad and progressive scope of the plans, many students are suggesting that the University might be going a bit far in their attempts to calm tensions between the university and its minority student community.
Though the Council included plans for many different efforts, what has drawn strong positive and negative reactions from students are the new curriculum requirements proposed by the Council.
Senior Steven Monacelli, President of Northwestern’s Student Political Union, commented, “Exposure to the stories and histories of a diverse range of people can only benefit one’s development.” He added, “Many majors don’t delve deep into topics that this requirement will cover, so many students are never exposed to the content. The requirement will help to change that.”
Yet other students are not too keen on the new requirements. According to Dane Stier, President of Northwestern’s College Republicans, “It is unfortunate not only that a university as prestigious as Northwestern would choose to perpetuate such a flawed and narrow-minded perception of diversity, but also that a top down, indoctrinating approach is being considered the appropriate solution. The neglect of reality and logic in favor of emotional satisfaction is disgraceful and unacceptable.”
Regardless of student feelings on the issue, university officials have made clear that the implementation of the draft released is truly the “official proposal,” with implementation a question of “when” and not “if.” As such, incoming students across disciplines can expect to be participating in the mandatory diversity curriculum by the fall of 2015.
Fix contributor Alex Jakubowski is a student at Northwestern.
(Image by Kijkwijzer/Wikimedia Commons)