Background

In the past year, we have watched—and experienced firsthand at Northwestern—the tension across the country as African American/Black students describe their experiences on college campuses, stage protests, and demand change. They are asking us to listen, to try and understand their experiences on campus, and to put in place support mechanisms, policies, and procedures that will allow them to thrive. Or, to put it differently, students want “systems” that work for them. As one Northwestern student described it,

. . . me coming from my background and why I was struggling. What was different about that? That’s like three years. I saw my friends get it together. No one explained to me, ‘You need help in this area. This is why this is failing you. This is why these STEM classes aren’t working out.’ No one contextualized it. No one explained that this system wasn’t built for you. Northwestern wasn’t built for you. You are going to struggle. I used to think, if it is all going wrong, other people got it—even when other people got it, I still thought, what’s wrong? It was self-hatred. All of that. I needed someone to contextualize my experience. I still haven’t figured out how to succeed in these classes, but hopefully, the next steps will be to understand how to do better, figure the system out. (Senior Focus Group)

Indeed, during Fall quarter 2015, a group of students called “The Concerned Students of Northwestern University” submitted a list of demands to University administrators. You can view or download the full report pdf here. (Appendix A, p. 60) African American/Black students at Northwestern University made demands in 1968 (Appendix B, p. 65) and 2012 (Appendix C, p. 85) as well. These documents—spanning 48 years—include some common requests:

  • Increase the number and percentage of African American/Black undergraduate students
  • Increase the number and percentage of African American/Black faculty
  • Ensure financial aid/financial resources are available to African American/Black undergraduate students
  • Plan and implement orientation programs for African American/Black undergraduate students
  • Create spaces where African American/Black students feel comfortable, safe, and can socialize
  • Provide academic and nonacademic support programs/resources that will enable African American/Black students to thrive
  • Consider how the predominantly White fraternity and sorority community affects the African American/Black undergraduate student community at Northwestern

And there have been other efforts in the past to study African American/Black student satisfaction and issues related to campus climate. To read the full report of the 2016 Black Student Experience Task Force, click here.