An Activist and a Scholar

Dealing with Delhi

An Activist and a Scholar

Senior Tracy Carson, one of the nation's top scholars and an energetic campus leader, keeps a full calendar.

Photo by Jasper Chen

Tracy Carson knows everyone at Northwestern. At least it seems that way on a Friday afternoon at Norris University Center. She can't walk 30 feet without hearing her name called, catching a smile or a friendly wave.

At 2 p.m. she's finally eating lunch — standing up. Her sub sandwich and plain potato chips come distant second to a heated discussion about Associated Student Government elections with two student senators.

As coordinator of For Members Only, an African American student group, and vice president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Carson has constituents everywhere.

"Where have you been?" they ask her at Norris, greeting her with hugs. "Did you hear about...?" or "What do you think about...?"

Carson is at home here.

"I know that I can walk into any place on campus and feel welcome," says Carson, a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "I'll hang out in the ASG office then go see a friend in Rainbow Alliance. I'm cool in the Black House, the debate house, Allianza and Hillel. I'm lucky that way. "

Carson belongs to more groups and serves on more committees than she can count on two hands. In addition to her extracurricular pursuits, the history major has excelled in the classroom.

Carson, who grew up in Chicago, is a 2003 Lincoln Laureate, an honor awarded to one outstanding senior from each four-year college and university in Illinois, and was named to USA Today's All-USA College Academic Second Team. In October she will move to England to study as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford ("Students Win Noted Fellowships and Awards," spring 2004).

It all begs the question: Does Carson ever sleep? "I just got a Palm Pilot," she says with a grin. "And I schedule every minute of every day."

Before taking on the massive responsibilities of coordinating FMO, Carson was a member of the perennially powerful Northwestern debate team. Carson was one of six squad members to compete in and win the 2003 National Debate Tournament, making her the first African American woman ever to be part of a National Debate Tournament Championship squad.

In fact, Carson says debate coach Scott Deatherage is the reason her diploma will come from Northwestern. While in high school on the South Side, Carson participated in the Chicago Urban Debate League, a program designed to promote debate in urban public schools. Northwestern undergraduates would critique the debaters.

"[Deatherage] recruited me senior year," Carson says, "and I just knew ever since we started talking that I wanted to attend Northwestern."

After Northwestern won the national debate tournament her junior year, Carson decided to quit to pursue her interests in African American activism and politics and to become more involved in her sorority's philanthropic activities.

Last winter Carson took five classes to maximize her dwindling Northwestern time.

"I have friends who always wanted to go to a school like Northwestern but couldn't," Carson says. "Whenever I'm too tired and don't feel like going to class, they remind me how blessed I am to be here, how they would die to go to school here. Then I make sure I go."

Carson wrote her senior honors thesis on the 1920s activities of the Ku Klux Klan in McHenry County in northern Illinois. Through history professor Nancy McLean, Carson learned about a new collection of letters and journal entries at the McHenry County Historical Society detailing KKK activities there. She was the first person to ever examine the records.

While in England, Carson will study the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Assistant director of fellowships Chris Hager is confident that whatever Carson does, she will succeed.

"When you combine a powerful intellect with that kind of tireless, impassioned commitment, it's no wonder Tracy accomplishes as much as she does," says Hager.

Carson, in turn, attributes her success to people like Hager and Sara Anson Vaux, director of the Fellowship Office. "They made me realize how much people here really do care about your personal success," Carson says. "I had a billion people helping me."

With Carson 's cast of colleagues and friends, that's not unrealistic.

-  Molly Browne (J04)


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