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Commitments to Social Justice: Fall Update

Dear Northwestern community, 

In June 2020, we announced 10 commitments to advance racial and social justice within our institution and our surrounding communities. Since then, the Northwestern community has been turning those words into action, completing the renovation of the Black House, expanding social justice and anti-racism training, bringing a new Chief Diversity Officer to the president’s senior staff, and refining our safety and security operations, to name a few key examples.

Today, we are pleased to announce that Northwestern will add Juneteenth as a paid University holiday, beginning in 2022. Juneteenth is a day of celebration commemorating June 19, 1865, the date on which some of the last enslaved Americans in Texas learned that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier. June 19 falls on a Sunday next year, so we look forward to honoring Juneteenth on Monday, June 20.

With this message, we also share the latest progress across the initiatives outlined in our 10 commitments, mindful of our larger obligations to enhance the well-being of everyone in our campuses, and in particular to address injustices that our BIPOC members encounter in their daily lives.

The Black House renovation

The Black House at Northwestern University officially reopened after a two-year renovation project. An official ribbon-cutting event took place on Oct. 15, during Reunion Weekend, and featured the return of members of the B100, a group of Black alumni who, as Northwestern students, courageously took over the Bursar’s Office for 38 hours in 1968, seeking equitable treatment and services for Black students on campus after numerous attempts to work with University leadership at the time. Through their commitment, care and vigilance, their acts resulted in the establishment of the Black House. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni celebrated the return of this important space on campus. 

Two key areas of focus for the renovations were celebrating Black culture and intellectual traditions as well as improved accessibility. The Black House is open and a virtual tour is available online.

Community Safety Advisory Board update

During the Winter Quarter, the Community Safety Advisory Board (CSAB) reviewed results of an external review of the Department of Safety and Security. That dialogue resulted in the CSAB issuing initial proposals to University leadership to initiate changes. The University then established working groups that spent the Spring Quarter analyzing questions posed by the CSAB and developing recommendations on how to enact each of these proposals.

Actions the University is taking include: 

  • The unarmed, civilian Community Service Officer function is transitioning from being led by security personnel to civilian leadership. This represents a shift of $1.2 million from the armed security budget to the purview of civilian leaders.
  • Leaders are evaluating operational models to assign tasks away from police and toward unarmed civilian staff units, such as the previously announced mental health counselor team or our Facilities team, to minimize the visible presence and dispatch of armed officers on campus.
  • Complaints about members or actions of Safety and Security will now go to University Compliance to foster independent oversight and investigation by civilian leadership. Complainants will receive an update of the outcomes of an investigation and can request independent review of an investigation if a process deficiency is identified. Oversight of remediation or corrective actions will be conducted by a central office (e.g., Human Resources) rather than Safety and Security. 

The CSAB is providing the opportunity for you to provide your thoughts and feedback confidentially to inform future discussions.

Anti-racism learning

“The Next 250,” anti-racism programming coordinated by the Office of Equity for approximately 250 faculty and staff leaders, is currently underway. The sessions challenge each leader to examine their role in both perpetuating racism and in guiding Northwestern to a better future.

We are also announcing a campus-wide digital learning initiative on social justice and anti-racism topics. This program for all faculty, staff and students will provide access to three custom, on-demand learning modules analyzing historic racism in the U.S. and at Northwestern, while also building greater understanding of unconscious bias and growing toward allyship. 

The primary goal of these modules is to develop a shared foundational understanding of key concepts related to anti-racism to enhance inclusive practices and interactions on our campuses.

Other updates from across the University

The Graduate School at Northwestern University awarded 12 student organizations and individuals Social Justice Mini Grants. The Graduate School’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion launched the mini-grant program to provide individual graduate students or graduate student affinity groups one-time grants of up to $2,500.

Career services at Northwestern have adapted the University’s anti-discrimination policy for use in recruitment activities and professional experiences with students, including co-ops, internships and practicums. The statement details expectations for employers and supervisors, as well as the process for students to report concerns and recommend possible next steps the University may take in response to such concerns. 

Additionally, Sarah Klaper has been hired as the University’s first Ombudsperson and began her role in August. The Office of the Ombudsperson serves as a confidential, neutral and independent resource to faculty, staff and students for resolving conflicts and navigating institutional challenges. The office was established at Northwestern in response to requests from individuals and groups across the University that included the Faculty Senate, Associated Student Government and the Provost’s Advisory Council for Women Faculty.

The work continues 

Many of the near-term initiatives from June 2020 have been fulfilled, yet we must continue to focus on the University's broader, long-term goals to advance equity and justice on our campus and in our communities. In particular, we must emphasize that the recent anti-Indigenous graffiti on the Rock, during Native American Heritage Month, was an intolerable violation of our community standards. We have committed to working with Northwestern’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance to establish a plan for improving the campus climate for our Indigenous students.  

We know that much work remains to be done in examining and addressing injustice and in building a truly inclusive Northwestern. We also know that this community is determined to continue to work together toward these ends.

We thank you.