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Update on Commitments to Social Justice

To the Northwestern University Community,

Over the past several months, we have listened with intention to the concerns, fears and hopes of our community as we envision a more equitable University community. As we look ahead to the spring – and as we approach the one-year mark of student, staff and faculty calls for change – we reaffirm our University-wide commitments to social justice. We are envisioning a new model for campus safety; we are working to adopt more inclusive hiring practices; and by continuing to listen to the many voices on our campuses, we are seeking to steward racial equity in all the places in which we learn, work and live.

Our quarterly update on our social justice commitments, below, reflects the continued dedication of Northwestern community members, our social justice action leaders and so many of you striving for change on our campus and in the larger community. The commitments announced last June were a response to newer calls for change but also built on the efforts of students, faculty, staff and alumni over many years. We are grateful for these advocates, and recognize their labor in helping Northwestern become a more equity-minded university.

We have taken important steps forward in creating a more just, anti-racist community, but they are far from the only steps planned. We encourage you to continue tracking our progress on these commitments on the Social Justice website

Reopening the Black House

We are excited to announce that we are on track for a mid-Spring Quarter completion for the renovated Black House, with the goal of hosting some re-opening events in early June 2021. While most events will be virtual, as COVID-19 guidelines permit, we will plan to allow small groups of students, prioritizing our Black graduating seniors, into the space prior to Commencement. We currently are planning grand re-opening events for the entire community for Fall 2021.

In the meantime, community members are encouraged to continue to follow along with the final steps of the renovation progress on the Black House Renovation Project website.  

Racial Equity in Chicago and Evanston

In early March, in partnership with the City of Evanston, we shared the initiatives and areas of emphasis for the first-ever $1 million allocation of the Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund. The initiatives include support for minority entrepreneurs, arts organizations, undocumented residents and socially isolated older adults, as well as funding to operationalize equity and improve language access within the City of Evanston government. Seed money also has been allocated for a guaranteed income pilot program that provides direct financial assistance to a limited number of low-income households.

Additionally, 48 local organizations were invited to submit full proposals for Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grants, which will be awarded in two tiers: partnership and incubator. Those chosen for incubator grants will receive funding to support their particpation in a 12-week racial equity training program, housed in the Center for Diversity and Democracy and led by Professor Alvin Tillery. The funding decisions for both the incubator and partnership grants will be announced in May.

Anti-Racism and Social Justice Training

Anti-racism programming for approximately 250 managers currently is in development, incorporating feedback from participants in the senior administrator anti-racism training that was hosted in October 2020. This training is on track to be completed by Aug. 31, 2021.

Additionally, we are developing digital anti-racism training for all students, faculty and staff, which will be customized to the experience of each group and will highlight the expertise of Northwestern faculty and staff. The anticipated launch date for the first module is September 2021.

Diverse Candidate Slates

In December, we announced a community review process for a Diverse Candidates Slate policy for staff positions. We are grateful for the profusion of constructive feedback to the policy received from individual staff, faculty and students. We also received collective feedback through 10 departmental and committee submissions. After careful consideration of the responses, the Office of Human Resources will begin rolling out targeted communications and training in May prior to implementing the policy. Details about the dates and scope of implementation will be the subject of future communications.

Implementing Community Safety Proposals

As we announced last week, an independent external review of the Department of Safety and Security’s community relationships and operations has been completed. The Community Safety Advisory Board (CSAB) will continue to evaluate recommendations from the external review, make additional proposals and develop a broader vision of what campus safety could and should look like.

Co-chaired by the University’s chief diversity officer, Robin R. Means Coleman, and Dr. Clyde Yancy of the Feinberg School of Medicine, the advisory board was charged with rethinking the campus safety model at a time when impassioned discussion continues nationwide about the role of safety and security departments in society and especially on college campuses. The board members — who also were announced last week and include undergraduate students, graduate students, a postdoctoral scholar, faculty members, staff and an alumna — have developed an initial set of proposals that emphasizes the most immediately actionable items based on the external review.

By June of 2021, we will implement these four initial proposals from the CSAB:

  • Reexamination of student mental health response and the extent to which Safety & Security should be involved
  • Safety & Security work analysis to determine services that should be offered by alternative methods or cease altogether
  • Reroute complaints about security services outside of Safety & Security
  • Evaluate if racial identifiers should be used in campus notices

The aim of CSAB is to fundamentally de-construct the current safety and security model and reconstruct a model appropriate in scope, scale and culture, which addresses recognized needs but also allows the emergence of new approaches to address the broader ecosystem of safety and security. We encourage you to stay updated on the CSAB’s progress through their webpage. These four main proposals are the first of many steps toward improving campus safety for all at Northwestern.

Additional Updates

We have created a cross-University program to develop organizational capability for restorative justice practices. This builds on programming introduced by Social Justice Education (SJE) in August 2017 and is in collaboration with the Office of Community Standards, the Office of Equity and the Office of Human Resources. The program will be housed in the Office of Equity and will be available to students, staff and faculty. Training and development with the program sponsors will begin in Spring with an anticipated program launch date in Fall 2021.

Additionally, the search for the University’s inaugural Ombudsperson is underway, and we expect to have more information to share during the Spring Quarter.

Looking Ahead to Spring

There is still much work to be done, and we remain committed to continued progress on our social justice efforts. Significantly, we will prioritize fully integrating these efforts for change into the fabric of our University so that this important work is ongoing, sustained and supported by leaders across campus. Please let us continue to hear from you, so together, we may emerge as a stronger community.