Freshman Year The year I traveled 40 minutes away from home to an alternate universe; a universe rife with opportunity, wealth, knowledge, racism and the ghosts of Native genocide. The year I sat starry eyed and anxious in a 300-level course on Global capitalism that not once mentioned race in a social context. The year a Northwestern student tied a noose around the neck of a plush bear belonging to a Northwestern custodian. The year white people yelled, “NIGGER!” out of a car as my friends walked down Sheridan. The year older, white alumni touring the ground floor of Norris stared at my friends and I as if we were martians. Wait, this happened every year. The year I became a part of a dazzling community of Black people; artists, athletes, activists, Greeks, math majors, troublemakers and lovers. There were romantic prospects and drama. There were Black parties every weekend and our events filled huge venues. We were here and thriving. It was a deceiving year. Sophomore Year The year the Black community began to dwindle. The year I realized Morty and the administration did not and do not care about Black students. The year I sat in a sea of lily-white faces in Harris Hall 107 as Morty and Morson paced the stage, bantering about alternate universes and finances in Humanities 260. I recall elaborate arguments in our discussion sections about life on other planets and how different society would be if Martin Luther hadn’t posted his litany on the door of the church. I also recall the silence that followed my argument about a non-linear historical narrative not being radical, especially when discussing racial progress in this country. The year Morty invited Humanities 260 into his home for a dinner. I sat at a table of five, three white students and one Asian student. I remember constantly staring at the one Black man in the group of 20 something students. He never returned my glare. However, the Black servers did. I smiled uncomfortably as they offered me sushi. The year I realized studying abroad was a white student thing. In our pre-departure lectures we read case-studies about gang life and the culture of Black grandmothers on the west side of Chicago, my home, in preparation for our voyage to the Dominican Republic. During our activities, we were tasked with exploring the “diverse” neighborhoods of Chicago and asking the people for directions instead of using our phones. I rode the familiar Blue line route as my white peers talked loudly and stole photos of people simply living their lives. I stood in front of the UIC building I had attended summer camp at as a child, dejected and ashamed. Junior Year The year I found my passion and lifelong struggle. The year I transferred into the School of Communications to pursue a degree in Radio/Television/Film. I was excited to meet the cultured, liberal white population at Northwestern. It felt like my homecoming. Until a white male student sitting adjacent to me in RTVF 379 remarked, “I don’t even know why Black people bother trying to get into the film industry.” The year I realized that the lack of Black faces onscreen and behind the camera in the works on the syllabuses of my classes was intentional. Black art is not as important and my Black art will never be lauded like the work of even my mediocre, white counterparts. The year I struggled and subsequently failed to convince my white peers to work on my film sets. The year Darren Wilson was not indicted. We grieved collectively in Harris Hall that night, only to wake up to angry Daily articles about white students’ journalistic rights being infringed upon. The year a white TA demanded I find sources and cite my personal experiences as a Black woman in a sociology course exploring the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The year I watched students of color rise up and fight for divestment — and win. The year I fantasized about who I would’ve been at Spelman or Howard. The year I admitted to myself that college would not be the best four years of my life. Senior Year The year I gave up. Admittedly, my spirit of activism and hope had been squelched. I took Northwestern for what is was and always will be – a colonial settler institution. The year they tried to take The Black House. It was August. Facebook was buzzing about a conference call and rumors of the Black House being destroyed. The administration and MSA decided to allocate resources differently, slicing the space for Black students drastically. The current Black students were emailing alumni and organizing under the guise of the Sheridan Block Club. I remember entering the sacred space of The Black House and finding purple MSA plaques near doors; looking for Daphne on the first floor and instead finding the walls painted a fishy turquoise. The year we pulled the curtains back at SPAC and walked through the aisles; Black student athletes avoided our eye contact while ESPN reporters glared curiously. I remember chanting, “These are our demands!” as Morty and administration members demurely clenched their butt cheeks. A row of donors behind them giggled and others clenched their fists. The year I entered the Black House Town Hall sessions to be greeted by an eager Patricia Telles-Irvin, a woman I had shared space with numerous times over my four years at Northwestern. The day of the first town hall she asked me my name for the first time. I remember being placated by a Black preacher; he condescendingly demanded Black students breathe as we were terrorized by cameras and lights. The year Black alumni and underclassmen fell to our knees in front of heartless administrators, pleading for the space our predecessors had fought for. The year I debated internally if I could encourage promising Black youth to attend this university and live with myself. The year two Northwestern students soiled a construction site with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti. The year I yelled at Spike Lee for making a mockery of the violence happening in my city. The year I received an email inviting me to participate in a focus group on the Black student experience at Northwestern. My stomach dropped as I read PTI’s name and its contents lurched as I read the words, “You are one of 78 undergraduate seniors who, according to the Registrar’s Office, identify as African American/Black…”. Sick to my stomach I replied with my RSVP. Student Affairs replied, “Natalie, sorry. This focus group is full.”
It took a four-year nightmare for me to actualize the growth and beauty I’ve experienced at Northwestern. I wrote many papers. I read Baldwin and Morrison. I watched Micheaux and Burnett. Professor Davis, Professor Kipnis and Professor Petty pushed me intellectually. I made films. I partied – some. I found a family in my club basketball team. I grieved the loss of Wings Over. I supported my friends’ dance performances and social endeavors. I called my mother a couple of times each day. I went home a lot. I suffered pain and depression.
But most importantly, I found unflinching love and friendship in my group of Black women. Our late night discussions at the apartments on Ridge and the voracious laughter we shared at Norris despite the overwhelming surrounding whiteness saved me. I wouldn’t trade these last four years for anything.
To the Black Northwestern students who will follow, you can accept this institution for what it is or work tirelessly to change it. Either way you are loved. I hope you make it through this white nightmare and reach your dreams.