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Update on Commitments to Inclusion and Social Justice

Dear members of our Northwestern community,

In June, we outlined Northwestern’s commitments to advancing racial and social justice. Since then, the University has begun the hard work of fulfilling those commitments.

These efforts remain just as important today as they were after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, among other, less publicized acts of violence, exclusion and marginalization. Last month, we were reminded yet again of our urgent responsibility to effect change after the horrific police shooting in Kenosha of Jacob Blake, a former resident of Evanston.

Since June, we’ve been inspired by members of the Northwestern community, among others, who have raised their voices in support of Black lives and to continue the fight for a better world.

As we near the beginning of a new academic year, we want to update you on our ongoing efforts, initially outlined in June, to make Northwestern a safer, more equitable and more inclusive place for all.

We acknowledge that we have only just begun and that some commitments will take much longer to fulfill. However, our dedication to systemic cultural change remains resolute. We know that only through sustained, coordinated action can social justice and equity become woven into our institutional fabric.

Appointment of Action Leaders

One of our first actions was to identify champions to drive this work across Northwestern. We have appointed three outstanding advocates with deep expertise in diversity and equity:

  • Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, acting chief of staff and executive director of campus inclusion and community in Student Affairs
  • Manuel Cuevas-Trisán, vice president for human resources and chief human resource officer
  • Sekile Nzinga, interim chief diversity officer and director of the Women’s Center, and a lecturer in Gender and Sexuality Studies

They have engaged our senior leadership, school and unit diversity leaders, the Diversity Council and others across the University to drive progress toward our goals. Our action leaders have spent the summer reviewing past social justice commitments and recommendations made by Northwestern taskforces over the years to integrate, prioritize and align their work with our most recent commitments.

Northwestern University Police Department Review

In June, we committed to reviewing the operations and policies of Northwestern University Police (NUPD) to ensure it carries out its public safety mission in a manner consistent with our highest values. Since then, we have engaged two outside consultants to lead a thorough review of NUPD. One consultant will evaluate NUPD’s community engagement. The second will work in tandem to assess NUPD’s operations and policies, to include a budgetary review. Work on these two evaluations will continue into the fall, leading to a public report with recommendations.

Chief Diversity Officer Search

In August, the Chief Diversity Officer Search Committee reached out to a broad group of stakeholders, including students, to learn more about what they consider to be the most important qualities and characteristics for our next chief diversity officer (CDO). The committee also sought feedback and nominations from the Northwestern community. We received more than 1,000 responses and 100 nominations. In response to your feedback, the CDO will join President Morton Schapiro’s senior staff and be part of decision-making at the highest level while continuing to report to Provost Kathleen Hagerty. Candidate interviews will begin soon, and the committee expects to recommend finalists to Provost Hagerty by early October.

Update on the Black House

The Black House renovation continues to be vital as we honor and center Black students within our community, and it is a significant priority as identified in the Black House Facility Review Committee’s work. The project, which was paused due to the pandemic, was among our top construction priorities when work could resume. Renovations are slated to finish by March 2021, and we look forward to unveiling the new space in the spring. Look for bi-weekly status reports online.

Senior Leadership Diversity and Anti-Racism Programming

As we committed to previously, we will convene with almost 50 key University leaders for a series of anti-racism and unconscious bias training sessions with an emphasis on action planning. Our Learning and Organizational Development team will deliver this training over the course of two months with the highly respected Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. Our leadership will individually and collectively discuss and learn about all forms of implicit and explicit racism or bias.

In addition, we are working on expanding diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-racism trainings to the entire campus. Many individual schools, units and departments have expanded programs and trainings for teams and stakeholders. Together, we will undertake a journey to lead Northwestern toward becoming a more just and inclusive institution.

Allocation of $1.5 Million to Advance Social Justice and Racial Equity in Evanston and Chicago

In July, Northwestern and the City of Evanston announced that, for the sixth straight year, the University will contribute $1 million to Evanston. The gift has been reimagined as the Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund to dismantle systemic barriers faced by Evanston’s historically marginalized communities.

Northwestern also has established a new $500,000 Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grant Program. Grants will be awarded this winter to promising partnerships that connect our world-class research and innovative students with community groups to drive positive social transformation in Evanston and Chicago. An advisory group of University and community representatives, led by the Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations, will convene this month to oversee the grant.

Additional Progress

The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and the Women’s Center this week released their first Gender Inclusive Initiatives Update, which is part of the work stemming out of the Gender Queer, Non-Binary, and Trans Task Force in support of trans and non-binary students, faculty and staff. One example of our progress is that Canvas users can now select pronouns in their profile. Using a person's pronouns correctly helps create an environment in which people of all gender identities and expressions can feel respected and validated. This update arose from ongoing efforts in IT, the Registrar’s Office and the Women’s Center.

In alignment with a recommendation from the Black Student Experience Task Force Report, Wildcat Welcome also has been enhanced over the past three years. Most recently, additional affinity spaces have been incorporated into the program, and this fall, all new students will participate in a required diversity and inclusion training, co-developed by Campus Inclusion and Community and New Student Programs.

We also are excited to welcome two new colleagues dedicated to accessibility and equity:

  • TiShaunda McPherson, an accomplished civil rights attorney, has joined us as our new associate vice president for equity. She is charged with fostering an environment free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Niyolpaqui Moraza-Keeswood has joined us as an assistant director of undergraduate admission. He will focus on Native American and Indigenous student outreach and on community-based organizations. 

What’s Next

In the months to come, we will continue to advance these and other commitments. The University is developing a website that will track this progress, to be launched in the Fall Quarter. We will update the site regularly and provide quarterly e-mail updates to the community throughout the year.

We thank you for sharing your thoughts, concerns and ideas with us over the summer. You have inspired us with your passion and dedication in fighting for social justice. We encourage you to keep engaging and advocating for change. Together we will make Northwestern a better place for all.