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Mission and History

Mission Statement

We provide spaces, services, and guidance to promote student learning, community engagement, and cultural inclusion.

Norris Heritage

Lester J. Norris

Norris received its name from Lester J. Norris, an alumnus of Northwestern University who passed away in 1967. In his memory, the parents of Lester Norris contributed $2.5 million toward the construction of a student center on the recently finished lakefill.

Our logo, adopted in 2003, recalls the Old Oak native to the Evanston campus. In the 1800s, a large, old oak tree near Harris Hall served as a center for Northwestern community. We feel that Norris now plays the role of a nexus for our university and its students.

Since the dedication of the building in 1973, Norris has been the center for student activity at Northwestern University. Whether searching for artistic release, leadership opportunities, weekend movies, books, or just some friends and some grub, Norris has it, and much more. Students, faculty, staff, guests, and alumni alike can find something here. We hope to continue to build our Northwestern community, to foster old and new traditions, and to encourage Northwestern students to find their destination at Norris.

History of the Norris Oak

Northwestern was without a campus in 1853 when trustee Orrington Lunt began exploring sites north of Chicago. A majestic oak grove on the shore of Lake Michigan caught his attention, an oak grove that later impressed Lunt’s fellow trustees. The men purchased the 379-acre Foster Farm and began work on the new university. Northwestern took root when construction on the first building on campus, the Old College, finished in 1855.

Oak trees continued to play a large role in Northwestern’s history. The Old Oak, a 250-year-old Monarch Oak near University Hall, became the first gathering place for Northwestern students. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, students would gather underneath another oak, the “Trigonometree,” at the end of each term. There they burned their math books in ritual celebration, a ritual that spawned an annual student musical, the predecessor of today’s Waa-Mu show. Today, the Northwestern Alumni Association features an oak leaf in their logo, citing the oak as a symbol of Northwestern tradition as well as scholarship, strength, and steadfastness.

Mindful of Northwestern’s rich heritage, Norris University Center seeks to emulate the oak by offering a place to relax and spend time with friends. While the oak’s acorns represent the growth of students, faculty and staff, its branches represent the many services and program Norris has to offer. The roots represents Norris Center’s core values of people, diversity, community, education, service, accountability, and fiscal responsibility.

As students of Northwestern and employees of Norris University Center, we must continue the tradition and spirit symbolized by the oak by working hard and making Norris a destination for all students at Northwestern.