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Listening to Black Students

The work of the Listening to Black Students Committee is driven by the 2016 Black Student Experience Task Force Report recommendation #9:

"Get to know and listen to Black students regularly, not just in times of crisis. This includes increasing faculty/student interaction, student interaction with those in administrative and staff positions, and interaction with academic advisors."

This work has been divided among five working groups who have met since the committee's kick-off in January of 2018. By the conclusion of the academic year, the working groups will deliver recommendations to the full committee on ways to implement "listening to Black students" that speak to the 2016 report recommendation.

Please continue reading for student recaps on recent committee meetings

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Listening to Black Students Committee Recap 1-25-2018

 By Kiana Jones, WCAS Class of 2020

“Get to know and listen to Black student regularly, not just in times of crisis.”  This is recommendation #9 from the Black Student Experience Task Force (BSETF) Report conducted in 2016. Although a seemingly straightforward charge, it turns out that “listening,” beyond the surface, is actually a dynamic process that reveals just as many questions and challenges as there are student voices to contribute to the conversation.

On January 25th, a group of Northwestern students, faculty and staff came together to participate in the Listening to Black Students Committee Winter Quarter Kick-off as a continuation of the larger BSETF Implementation Committee work that began in the summer of 2017.

Although the focus of the Listening to Black Students Committee is clearly articulated, it became apparent through the kick-off, that this was just the beginning of a long-term process for accomplishing change in the Black student experience at Northwestern.

As a starting point for the meeting, the room was separated into the five-working groups that are each individually charged with contributing recommendations to the work of listening to Black students: Faculty Working Group; Senior Leadership Working Group; Academic Advisors Working Group; Data & Assessment Working Group; Communications & Logistics Working Group.

Participants received a warm welcome from the Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Jabbar Bennett, who is a co-chair for the BSETF Implementation Committee. Following, Listening to Black Students Steering Committee Chair, Dr. Kelly Schaefer, set the context for the group, recapping how the committee came to fruition, its progression, and how the goal of its work is to engage student with more active listening strategies to increase interactions with various staff groups on campus. In this charge, Dr. Schaefer emphasized the importance of consistent and concrete action. With proper leadership, timeliness, and accountability, “getting to know and listen to Black students” hopes to initiate a tangible impact on the experience of Black students at Northwestern.  

Later, the group transitioned into an interactive activity, led by Robert Brown, Director of Social Justice Education. Participants were encouraged to meet someone in the room that they did not know and share about an encounter where they felt they handled a conflict well, and about one where they may have dealt with the conflict not-so-well. The goal of the activity was to guide students and staff to each analyze their roles in conflict resolution by shifting perspectives from a “blame” mentality to one of personal critical analysis. Such themes are crucial in the context of Listening to Black Students because it requires participants to be both open-minded and introspective.

To wrap up the kick off, the working groups each discussed their individual roles on the committee, and, for the first time, group members were asked to think about what does it mean to get to know and listen to Black students, regularly, not just in times of crisis? Conscious of the fact that the simple response to this question continues to be the elephant in the room: just do it, just listen. However, the reality of this group work reveals that listening to Black students should not be conceptualized as a singular act or one-time event. Black students are a diverse and dynamic group within the Northwestern student body, and their voices, opinions, and experiences are many.  More than “just listening,” adequately incorporating the suggestions of BSETF Report recommendation #9 requires a shift in the way faculty, staff and administrators engage with the Black student experience, requiring both ongoing cultural competency regarding the current campus climate, and acknowledgement of the particular historical context that has contributed to Black students reporting to be the least satisfied demographic among the student body.

As a student participating in this committee, I definitely had skeptical thoughts about the capacity to create real change at Northwestern. Furthermore, other students that attended, who I’ve seen on campus active around similar issues, even expressed sentiments along the lines of “these issues aren’t new, and there’s been plans to create change before, so what are we going to do effectively this time?” Despite these initial feelings, I would say that we left the kick-off feeling hopeful, after working with staff to draft concrete next steps in each working group, and feeling supported by the group’s clear and visible staff commitment to this work.

For me, “Getting to know and listen to Black students,” means making the time and taking the effort to explore the diverse identities of each student, and considering the factors within each of our experiences that may help or harm these identities. It is imperative for Black students to be widely recognized in such a majority institution. Our history has shown us the consequences of turning a blind eye to the deliberate oppression of Black students in this country, as well as here at NU. To be able to deconstruct what it means to “get to know and listen to Black students” signifies a step forward in the healing process and toward building a healthy relationship between Black students and the larger University community.

Listening to Black Students Committee Recap 3-15-2018

Please check back for a recap of the March 15th committee meeting.