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Commitments to Social Justice: One Year Later and Looking Ahead

Dear Northwestern community,

We recognize that building a campus community where everyone feels a deep sense of belonging requires not merely ambitious goals but a different way of being. We remain grateful to the faculty, staff and students who continue to advance the work of social justice, inclusion and anti-racism at Northwestern every day. In particular, we want to acknowledge the class of 2021, our newest Northwestern alumni: the dedication you have shown to making the University a better place is both meaningful and deeply appreciated. As you begin this new chapter in your lives, know that your efforts to make Northwestern a more equitable campus will continue.

The Social Justice Commitments that were outlined in June 2020 marked a turning point for Northwestern. They are symbols of our resolve to build upon the significant work of the past and create a better future. We know much work remains. As we acknowledge the first anniversary of our commitments, we want to reflect on the progress achieved to date and recommit to a path that rejects all forms of inequity.

Black House renovation

We are excited to announce that we are nearing the completion of the construction phase of the Black House. We hosted walk-throughs of the house Monday, June 7, for our graduating seniors. Twenty-seven students were able to see the renovated space, which is currently at approximately 85% completion. A virtual tour is available for those who want to see the house in its current state. Additional work to curate the space and complete finishing touches will continue throughout the summer in preparation for grand re-opening events in the Fall. We cannot wait to welcome back our Black students and dedicated alumni to this significant and vitally important place on campus.

More information about continued progress can be found on the Black House Renovation Project website.

Increasing diversity within our community

Northwestern saw increased diversity in this year’s undergraduate admissions applicant pool. We look forward to welcoming the Class of 2025, which will be the most diverse to date, including historic representation of students who identify as Black, Hispanic or Latino/a/x, Native or Indigenous, and/or first-generation college, as well as students who will receive federal Pell Grants.

During this admissions cycle, we instituted a test-optional policy that will extend into next year; a sustained commitment to need-blind admission review; meeting full financial need with loan-free aid awards; and innovations in digital programming that broadened prospective students' connections with our campus community to pave new avenues for college access.

Anti-racism and social justice training

Last fall, the University took steps to raise senior leaders’ understanding of anti-racism and social justice. Since then, the University has contracted with Justice Informed, a Chicago-based social impact consulting firm, to develop and facilitate anti-racism programming for approximately 250 faculty and staff leaders. This program, “The Next 250,” begins this fall with three bi-weekly sessions covering anti-racism theory, the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism, how both are needed to lead the University to sustained inclusivity, and opportunities for the leaders to advance such objectives. In addition to The Next 250 program, the University is partnering with faculty and staff subject matter experts to develop a digital anti-racism series for students, faculty and staff. We anticipate launching in spring 2022.

This spring we also announced a cross-University program to develop organizational capability for restorative justice practices. The program will be housed in the Office of Equity and will be available to students, staff and faculty. The first cohort of facilitators completed a three-week intensive training in May, and the second cohort is scheduled to complete training in July. The program is anticipated to launch in fall 2021.

Supporting staff

The University recently announced its commitment to advance diversity and equity through staff hiring practices as a component of broader social justice initiatives. The diverse candidate slates policy went live June 14. Training on the policy is required for all managers and individuals who partake in hiring processes and is available on MyHR Learn for all staff and faculty.

Additionally, a new range of family support options available to members of the Northwestern community aims to expand adoption support and improve dependent care options.

Northwestern’s Office for Human Resources (NUHR) recently announced changes to the adoption reimbursement program, which helps eligible faculty and staff recuperate some of the costs of adoption. In addition, NUHR extended the Temporary COVID-19 Caregiving Grant program and launched a new website that allows University community members to sign up to provide or hire childcare help and other services from Northwestern students.

Community safety review

As we shared in March, we are working toward action on Community Safety Advisory Board proposals by June 30. Meanwhile, one immediate change has been that complaints about campus safety services no longer route through the Department of Safety and Security, as recommended, and instead now route through University Compliance. More updates will be shared this summer about progress on the recommendations.

Racial equity in Evanston and Chicago

This month, we announced the inaugural recipients of the Racial Equity and Community Partnership grants. This funding supports community-created ideas to solve the systemic problems of racial inequity in local neighborhoods. Ten organizations will receive partnership grants and partner with Northwestern groups, and 11 organizations will receive incubator grants. Learn more about the grantees here.

Other updates

On May 13, Northwestern named Sarah Klaper as the University’s first Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson acts as a neutral, independent, impartial and confidential resource for faculty, staff and students on all three Northwestern campuses: Evanston, Chicago and Doha, Qatar. The Ombudsperson will offer assistance on a broad array of issues, including academic and work-related concerns. Many members of the Northwestern community advocated for and provided input on the position and examined the potential for this campus resource. We are excited for Sarah to join us Aug. 1.

Looking ahead

We must embed anti-racism institutionally—in every corner of the University and across all three of our campuses. This requires us to abide by the values of anti-racism, inclusion and belonging. We also must rely not just on taskforces and committees, but on scholarship, research and social justice best practices that will inform positive change before issues arise.

Under the leadership of Robin R. Means Coleman and in close partnership with administrators across the University, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI) is developing a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan that will involve key partners reporting their efforts in improved campus climate, equity and retention, and recruitment of diverse faculty, students and staff.

A change in culture — especially in a diverse, dynamic community such as ours — requires both urgent action and patience. Systematic change does not happen overnight, but it can and must happen. It also cannot be left to chance. Accountability is required. You have our commitment to ensure that such accountability occurs, and we will communicate progress again before Fall quarter.

We look forward to your engagement and a continuing path of progress.