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Commitments Toward Social Justice

Dear members of our Northwestern community,

As a university and as a nation, we are grappling with fundamental truths about our world marked by heinous acts of violence and inequitable policies inflicted upon and directed at black, brown, indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized people. 

Northwestern Professor kihana miraya ross recently published an article in The New York Times titled “Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness.” Professor ross wrote that “Anti-blackness describes the inability to recognize black humanity. It captures the reality that the kind of violence that saturates black life is not based on any specific thing a black person — better described as ‘a person who has been racialized black’ — did. The violence we experience isn’t tied to any particular transgression. It’s gratuitous and unrelenting.”

Let us be clear: Northwestern’s commitment to racial and social justice must be equally unrelenting. We vehemently oppose anti-blackness and police brutality. It should not be a controversial or a political statement to declare that Black Lives Matter.

We promise to work, as individuals and as an institution, to seek justice and to better support our black students, staff, and faculty. We need to identify and address all forms of implicit and explicit racism and bias on our campuses. We must, and we will, do more.

Toward that end, we have asked leaders across the University to develop strategies for implementing the following commitments:

  • We commit to increasing diversity within our community. We will work to ensure that our underrepresented students, faculty, and staff members thrive in a fair, open, accountable, and supportive environment with more opportunities for personal and professional growth. We plan to raise specific funds to support the diversification of our student body and of our faculty. We will be proactive in recruiting black and other underrepresented students and scholars at all levels by immediately providing resources to schools and departments so they can meet this commitment. We will also utilize the ongoing collaborative work of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Division of Student Affairs, Office of Equity, and Office of the Provost to develop a comprehensive set of resources and training opportunities to equip our faculty to create more inclusive teaching and learning environments. 

  • We commit to hiring, advancing, and supporting staff from marginalized communities. Before the new fiscal year begins on September 1, 2020, we will establish an institutional policy requirement for diversified candidate slatesfor every staff position, including searches conducted externally. By that date we will also establish an inclusivity consultation team of administrators and faculty. Before the end of this calendar year, we will publicize the standards and methods by which we determine compensation for staff and faculty. We will also publish annually a workforce diversity and social impact report beginning in August 2021.

  • We commit to expanding diversity training and anti-racism programs and curricula for all faculty, staff, and students. Senior administrators and academic leaders will undertake anti-racism training this summer and will develop and sponsor mandatory training sessions and programs for all campuses. 

  • We commit to expediting the renovation of The Black House, a critical space for black students on our Evanston campus. With the recent shift to Phase 3 in the state’s Restore Illinois plan, we have already reactivated The Black House renovation project. We will share the new project timeline as soon as possible. 

  • We commit to a national search for the hiring of our next Chief Diversity Officer with student representation on the committee. This position will be a crucial part of ensuring that our entire Northwestern family, not only our communities of color, is engaged in these efforts.

  • We commit to reviewing the operations of Northwestern’s police department (NUPD) to ensure that all of our students, faculty, and staff are safe and protected. We will reexamine all of NUPD’s approaches and functions, including its use of force policy, in particular relating to reporting protocol and impartial third-party review; its bias-free policing policy, to improve accountability; and law enforcement professionalism standards. We will supplement and reinforce annual training on de-escalation and responses to individuals in crisis. The NU Police Advisory Board — which comprises a diverse group of students, staff, and faculty — will be integral to reassessing programs and communications regarding public safety concerns, along with our relationships with the Evanston and Chicago police departments.

  • We commit to reviewing our overall approach to community safety. In addition to our commitment to assessing police oversight and operations, we will review our university policies, procedures, and processes related to creating and supporting a safe and healthy community. This encompasses the student code of conduct, residence hall policies and procedures, and overall university policies to ensure that these guidelines do not disproportionally impact our marginalized community members.

  • We commit to revisiting the work of past task forces and student social-justice activities to assess past recommendations that have not yet been realized. This includes reexamining recommendations presented in the Bursar’s Takeover proposals and the 2016 Black Student Experience Task Force Report, as well as tracking progress relating to the GQNBT Task Force report from earlier this year. 

  • We commit to allocating $1.5 million for Fiscal Year 2020-21 toward advancing social justice and racial equity in Evanston and Chicago. Having recently concluded a five-year Good Neighbors Fund commitment for a variety of community needs in the Evanston area, we will now shift — and increase by $500,000 — our investments toward programs that dismantle systemic barriers faced by historically marginalized communities. Our commitment here is not simply financial; crucial to this initiative is the active partnership between our students, faculty, and staff and our surrounding communities. We will also begin reporting on local minority- and women-owned businesses hired as contractors through our facilities, construction, and procurement units.

  • We commit to building on our social reform and advocacy work. We are expanding the Northwestern Prison Education Program, as well as bolstering the many legal reform programs within the Bluhm Legal Clinic, including the Center on Wrongful Convictions. We will also continue to grow the Northwestern Academy, a program that supports local public school students.

Over the course of this summer, you will hear from University leaders — including members of our faculty whose scholarship and research have long been committed to solving societal injustices — about specific plans and proposals related to each of the above commitments and how members of the Northwestern community can become involved.

We will be transparent about our progress and report regularly to our entire community on areas of improvement and on those that need further attention.

Northwestern’s Mission Statement promises “excellent teaching, innovative research, and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.” Words are nothing without actions, and we pledge to act decisively to uphold the standards of this university and to ensure that each of its members is treated with the dignity and respect that we all deserve.