This past week Northwestern University played host to its first ever “Social Justice Week.” Several campus groups worked together to plan a week of events on subjects varying from sexual assault in the military to Northwestern founder John Evans’ role in the historic Sand Creek massacre. Though organizers claimed the week was a culmination of tensions and student-led movements for inclusion and diversity, many students saw the events as furthering campus divisions, rather than bridging them.
Of particular concern for many students was the week’s demonstrated bias against the state of Israel. Of the fifteen originally scheduled events, four were organized by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, all of which had a distinctively anti-Israel stance. While one such event was cancelled, three events continued including a commemoration of Nakba Day, which declares the founding of the Jewish State a catastrophe, and a screening of a film that linked Israel with Apartheid South Africa. Citing the one-sided nature of the week’s events, several groups actually retracted their sponsorship of either single events or the week as a whole.
Also problematic for many students were the organizers’ rules for selecting participating student organizations. According to their Facebook page and comments from the organizers, only groups fitting the following characteristics were approached for co-sponsorship: the group “seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.”
Of the thirteen groups listed on Northwestern’s Center for Student Involvement website as “social justice organizations,” only two were approached for co-sponsorship. Furthermore, while Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Cultural Students Association were active participants in the week, student organizations Wildcats for Israel, Hillel, CRU (Campus Crusades for Christ), and the Sheil Catholic Center were never approached for participation. This is despite publication of an “interfaith discussion on Palestine,” which featured a controversial anti-Israel Rabbi speaking on one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, Shavuot.
Many of the group leaders saw the idea of a Social Justice Week as a welcome step in promoting their causes at Northwestern. Though most of the events were sparsely attended, the additional publicity the groups received by banding together helped bring attention to their respective causes increased the organizations’ visibility.
One of the principal organizers of the week, Northwestern student and Students for Justice in Palestine member Moira Geary told the Daily Northwestern before the week began, “There are a lot of student movements being organized on campus and the unifying process created by organizing and executing this week will provide greater education about, involvement in and support for each group involved.”
Others, however, saw the lack of attendance and participation as the week’s divisive nature impairing its effectiveness. Brian Lasman, a Northwestern Sophomore, lamented, “I want a Social Justice Week to bring the student population together over some of the most pressing issues of our generation.” He continued, “Social Justice Week addressed some relevant, important issues, but it deliberately excluded a large part of the student population. It became an event which divided the community, instead of bringing it together. In my opinion, it therefore failed to bring out exactly what it was intended to do.”
Fix contributor Alex Jakubowski is a student at Northwestern.
(Image by dinkeyhotey/flickr)