Source: Rishi Mahesh
Content Warning: Racist, Derogatory and Foul Language
In 1968, more than 100 Black Northwestern students occupied the Bursar’s office for 38 hours to protest the unjust experiences Black students faced on this campus. This protest included demands for the hiring of Black counselors to support Black students mental health, a more “realistic” number of Black students on campus and more administrative support. Fifty-one years later, not much has changed.
Black students are still demanding more psychological and administrative support at a time when a racist scholar has been allowed to occupy space on this campus. Anti-black hate crimes abound, including a noose found in a public space on campus, an email sent to an African-American studies professor riddled with racist language and at least four stickers reported on campus bearing the derogatory white supremacist slogan, “It’s Okay to be White.” These instances have been largely downplayed and ignored by the Northwestern administration.
“There doesn’t seem to be any institutional support for Black people in general, especially with the things that are happening [on campus] like with Kanazawa and all of the hate crimes,” says Austin Gardner, the incoming coordinator of For Members Only, Northwestern’s Black student alliance. “The Black community has had to find ways of support for ourselves.”
Northwestern administrators could not be reached for comment regarding this article. However, in a university statement released through email, Provost Jonathan Holloway said, “Any such [acts of] discrimination simply will not be tolerated” on Northwestern’s campus.
This electronically released statement was met with uncertainty and skepticism throughout the Northwestern community because of a lack of clarity and trust between students and the administration.
“I don’t think emails constitute support,” says Gardner. “There definitely needs to be some form of action shown to be supportive, or more transparency if they are actually doing things regarding these issues because [students] don’t know.”
What do these acts of intolerance signify for Northwestern and other campuses across the country?
The slogan “It’s Okay to be White” was co-opted by neo-Nazis and white supremacy groups after the neo-fascist “Unite the Right” rally took place on the University of Virginia’s campus in 2017, which led to three deaths and over 40 injuries. The slogan, which originated on the dark web, is seen as a response to the idea that “white people are under attack in this country.” This feeling has infiltrated the political sphere in an ever-polarizing conservative-versus-liberal debate, which in turn has been reflected on campus life at many colleges across the nation. This white victim construct is one that experts say, not so long ago, only had traction only among extremist fringe groups: avowed white supremacists, segregationists and neo-Nazis. But today, it animates open and anonymous public discussions of race and shapes the nation’s politics.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found that incidents of white-supremacist propaganda had increased at American colleges in the 2017-18 academic year by 77 percent from the year before. Because these episodes are on the rise, advocates are urging administrators to be vocal in denouncing them and suggest they have a plan in place for when they occur.
This sentiment for the need of administrative action and support runs deep for students as well. Kourtney Kinchen, a second-year Weinberg student, said:“I think that the backbone of support should be the administration because Black students don’t have the biggest influence on this campus. There’s a lot of silencing and marginalization here, so the school has to be the one to make the larger statement about these issues.”
As administrators plan to handle these situations, they face a new challenge exacerbated in the digital age — anonymity. Anonymity has played a key role in both the hate crimes themselves and in how they have saturated college campuses and discussions surrounding race.
At Northwestern specifically, an anonymous email with the message “Hey, Doc., after I finish AFAMST 380: Unsettling Whiteness, I want to take AFAMST 101: Unsettling Chimps, you racist mother fucker,” was recently sent to Northwestern Associate Professor of African American Studies, Political Science, and Sociology, Dr. Barnor Hesse. The email was sent in response to a class Dr. Hesse teaches titled “Unsettling Whiteness.”
Dr. Hesse declined to be interviewed for this story, but the university did release a response to the situation through email and NUPD is currently investigating the situation.
In response to the racist email, the dean of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Adrian Randolph, said: “On behalf of the Weinberg College community, I condemn the cowardly act of sending such an email and strongly denounce all forms of racism, discrimination, and harassment.”
Under similar circumstances at the Harvard Business School, the FBI is currently involved in investigating a racist and threatening anonymous email sent to multiple members of Harvard Business School. Harvard administrators have reacted similarly to those of Northwestern and have released public statements of denouncement.
What happens next for the Northwestern community?
For some students these acts of hate leave them in an awkward and uncomfortable position in which they have to choose between focusing on their academics and post-college future versus their temporary livelihoods at Northwestern.
“I don’t know if these acts of hate are directly related to an immediate threat of physical violence against Black students,” said second-year Medill student Jonathan Perry about his drawbacks about the situation on campus. “And it’s difficult because we have other things we should be focusing on like school and midterms.”
As students stretch themselves to achieve academically, they are put into a position where they must support and protect themselves both physically and emotionally. This in turn highlights the apparent lack of support students have from administration. However, there are some institutional forms of support available for students affected, namely Student Enrichment Services and Campus Inclusion & Community.
“There are definitely individual administrators in MSA, SES, and CIC who care about students, but they don’t have the autonomy within the institution to enact change,” says Gardner.
Even without actually receiving the institutional support that Black students are told they posses, their persistence in creating a more equitable and inclusive campus environment has not wavered, most notably with the creation of the Black Mentorship Program. BMP a student facilitated program has opened up a space for Black students to develop community and stability amongst themselves.
“Although we shouldn’t be the only ones having to do this for ourselves, Black students have assisted each other in creating a loving environment on this campus,” Kinchen maintains.