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Fall Quarter Update on Commitments to Social Justice

Dear members of our Northwestern community,

We want to reiterate our gratitude to our students, faculty and staff who have called for a better society and a better Northwestern. Leading academic institutions like ours rightfully serve as incubators of change. Our community, like so many others across the nation, stands at the nexus of a historic public health crisis, the painful realities of racism and enormous economic challenges.

These have been difficult months for so many. During this time, we have engaged with hundreds of you in deep and difficult conversations, in large and small groups and one-on-one; you have conveyed your experiences, your pain, your concerns and, most of all, your hope for change. You have been helping us to see how and where we must be better. 

As we enter 2021, we acknowledge that we still have much to learn and unlearn, and much work to do and to undo. Some of the tasks ahead reflect past commitments left unfinished. But we rededicate ourselves to urgent and impactful change.

Our quarterly social justice initiative update, below, outlines a recalibrated commitment to make Northwestern a more inclusive and equitable institution.

Addressing Safety and Wellness for All

We recognize the importance and urgency of addressing the major question of safety and security at Northwestern. Your candid assessments and ideas have helped us recognize that our concerns must extend beyond physical safety and security.

We have heard your concerns about student well-being, availability of healthcare, appropriate crisis intervention and mental health services, as well as a campus culture that, for many, is not conducive to safety and wellness. The statements are sobering, and they reflect a need for broader, more holistic approaches to health, safety, security and well-being.

This work will take time and require all of us to contribute, and we are committed to following through.

Listening with Intention

We have begun a series of “Community Conversations.” We hope those of you who have attended a session can sense a desire for honesty, “no-boundary content” and an openness to new directions. Since Nov. 23, we have hosted three virtual sessions with faculty, staff and students on the Evanston and Chicago campuses. More will follow.

These have been invaluable opportunities to listen to a range of concerns about bias, harassment and inequitable treatment. You also have impressed upon us the need for a greater sense of urgency and accountability in our initiatives. And we have heard your voices advocating for more investment to create a deeper sense of safety and belonging for everyone on our campuses.

Social Justice Website

Part of our expanded communication efforts is the launch of the Social Justice at Northwestern website. The site will feature regular updates to reflect progress made toward each of our social justice commitments. It also serves as a centralized hub for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, committees, research, resources and programs. We hope this will increase transparency and foster broader awareness and action around our efforts. 

While some efforts are new, we acknowledge that others began decades ago and were initiated by students, faculty and staff — particularly those from our Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized communities. As we go forward, we encourage each member of our community to join us in the collective efforts to create lasting change.

Campus Safety Next Steps

We continue to better understand the anxiety and stress many of our community feel stemming from our current campus safety practices. We are advancing a multi-step plan for assessment and action: 

  • Over the summer, we engaged two external consultants to review the Northwestern University Police Department’s policies and operations. The consultants have interviewed more than 50 undergraduate and graduate student organizations, diversity and equity leaders, faculty and staff, senior administrators, and internal and external partners on the Evanston and Chicago campuses. The consultants’ report detailing findings and recommendations is due early Winter Quarter 2021 and will be publicly shared.
  • As we announced in October, a newly established Community Safety Advisory Board of stakeholders across the University is considering the many dimensions of campus safety. The advisory board will guide implementation of the external consultants’ recommendations and make additional recommendations to improve campus safety and wellness. Dr. Clyde Yancy, Vice-Dean of Diversity & Inclusion at the Feinberg School of Medicine, is the chair of the Advisory Board and will host listening sessions with faculty, staff and students across the University. Advisory board members are being recruited, and when the Board is fully seated, the membership will be made public. The proceedings and annual report from this Board will be transparent.

    We will act upon the recommendations of the Advisory Board and will continue to be guided by its counsel going forward.

Anti-Racism Training for University Leaders

In a key effort to foster inclusion, we and 50 other University leaders recently completed multi-faceted social justice and anti-racism training led by the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. These leaders now are working to translate what they learned and discussed into action plans for their schools, teams and departments and to expand anti-racism and DEI training offerings throughout the University.

Specifically, in Winter Quarter 2021, we will move into the next phase of our anti-racism and unconscious bias training. Programming for the next 250 University leaders, based on participant feedback and collaboration between HR and our social justice action leaders, is under development. 

Additionally, faculty and staff across the University can access existing unconscious bias trainings, DEI playlists — and by February 2021, the Active Inclusion for Teams workshop — on the myHR Learn website. The social justice website also includes other opportunities for all to learn, unlearn and relearn.  

Diverse Candidate Slates Policy Proposal

We committed in June to establishing an institutional policy regarding diversified candidate slates. A draft Diverse Candidate Slates Policy was submitted to the Policy Review Committee in late summer.

Given the importance of this policy, the next step will be a community-wide review. This process will allow all our community members to comment on the proposed policy and offer suggestions, which will inform additional updates before implementation. We look forward to hearing your feedback on this critical initiative.

Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grant Program

We continue our efforts to develop the Racial Equity and Community Partnership grants program for the Evanston and Chicago communities. We formed an advisory committee of Northwestern faculty and staff with expertise in racial equity, community-engaged teaching and research, public policy and program development. Additionally, the advisory committee includes community leaders with significant knowledge and experience in advocacy and asset-based community development.

The applications will go live Jan. 4, and we are on track for selecting the inaugural group of grantees by May 2021. To receive a notification when applications are available, please sign up here.

Hiring of Chief Diversity Officer

We will soon welcome Robin Means Coleman, our new chief diversity officer, on Feb. 1, 2021. This nationally renowned scholar and administrator will serve on the President’s senior staff in a newly elevated role and play a crucial part in strengthening our Northwestern community.

Looking Forward

We acknowledge the magnitude of the work that remains, and we commit to do better.

We are grateful for those who have stepped forward to guide us in this crucial new phase. In particular, we extend our deepest thanks to the social justice action leaders who have coordinated these endeavors: Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, Manuel Cuevas-Trisán and Sekile Nzinga. They are partnering energetically with students, faculty and staff to drive us toward fulfilling our commitments.

Finally, we thank all of you for your unwavering resolve to make the University a better place for everyone. We are inspired by the dedication of our community to confront anti-Blackness and bias on campus and around the world. As we approach a new term and a new calendar year, we look forward to the better Northwestern that we will create together.