Themes

Fourteen themes emerged from a review of existing data, the focus groups, and the 2016 Black Student Experience Survey. They are listed below, and each is described more fully on the pages that follow. These themes summarize what the task force saw in the data and heard most consistently in the focus groups or through the open-ended comments on the 2016 Black Student Experience Survey.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that African American/Black undergraduates at Northwestern are a diverse group. Each student has his/her/their own narrative and experience. Sometimes these narratives and experiences do not fit neatly into a theme. The task force acknowledges that many of the themes overlap.

They are presented below in no particular priority order.

  1. There is much diversity within the African American/Black student community at Northwestern. This diversity makes it difficult—if not impossible—to describe a single, all encompassing, Black student experience. Intersecting identities must be considered.
  2. “Being the only one” in multiple campus settings day in and day out is isolating, lonely, and exhausting for African American/Black undergraduates. Many wonder if they belong at Northwestern.
  3. Current undergraduate African American/Black student satisfaction with their overall Northwestern experience lags behind that of every other racial/ethnic group. Moreover, it is on the decline. There are a myriad of contributing factors.
  4. African American/Black student satisfaction is likely influenced by what is occurring elsewhere in the country as well as local campus bias incidents.
  5. Perceptions of the racial/ethnic campus climate at Northwestern vary among African American/Black students.
  6. Witnessing or experiencing harassment or discriminatory behavior is part of the everyday experience for many Northwestern African American/Black students.
  7. Not all African American/Black students experience Wildcat Welcome as welcoming.
  8. Summer and pre-orientation programs are powerful mechanisms to build community and sources of support. After Wildcat Welcome, African American/Black students described finding community within their residential units and in various student groups.
  9. Space is important to African American/Black undergraduates. This includes the Black House and spaces where African American/Black students feel comfortable socializing.
  10. African American/Black students do not feel a part of—sometimes even shunned by—the predominantly White fraternity and sorority community at Northwestern.
  11. The Black community at Northwestern is welcoming for many African American/Black students but, at the same time, it can also be unwelcoming for others.
  12. Doubts about their own preparation for the academic rigor of college—sometimes just nagging self-doubt and sometimes reality —coupled with a lack of knowledge of where to go for help, breed frustration. This is particularly acute for African American/Black undergraduates in STEM fields.
  13. African American/Black students report many faculty are not trained or comfortable dealing with classroom micro or macroaggressions and/or controversial topics. African American/ Black students further report that cultural competency is lacking for many staff with whom they interact across the University.
  14. African American/Black students put forth numerous ideas to improve the Black student experience at Northwestern. Leading the list was increasing the number of undergraduate African American/ Black students.

The themes are described in more detail on the pages in our report, using data and student voices as support. A decision was made to use more, rather than fewer, student quotes. These quotes are unedited so as not to change whatever was intended.

"...it is important to acknowledge that African American/Black undergraduates at Northwestern are a diverse group. Each student has his/her/their own narrative and experience. Sometimes these narratives and experiences do not fit neatly into a theme."