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Letter of Concern from Northwestern Faculty and Staff

October 26, 2020

This Letter of Concern was sent to President Schapiro on October 26, 2020. GSS faculty were heavily involved in the initial drafting of the letter and worked with a broad coalition of NU faculty and staff on its editing and circulation.

October 26, 2020


Dear President Schapiro:

            As a coalition of faculty and staff members of Northwestern University from a broad range of departments and units, we write today to express our deep dismay at your response to recent student protests about the pervasiveness of anti-Black violence and the long history and current nature of much policing in this country. To write so dismissively to students of this University who have dedicated significant thought, time, and energy to making their voices heard in an institution that has been largely unresponsive to their articulated concerns is unacceptable. To suggest that our students should feel “ashamed” or that they “have lost their humanity” while expressing “disgust” at their actions is to deploy a language that rhetorically diminishes them and demonstrates a sense of superiority over them, whether such was the intention or not.

            We will not replicate here the content of the powerful letters recently sent to you by our Black and African American Studies colleagues. Their precision in illuminating the gravity of your continued refusal to engage our community’s reasoned requests for engagement, accountability, and respect speaks for itself. We write here, however, to express our strong support for them and for our BIPOC students and staff colleagues, and to assert strenuously that all have the right to protest and redress historic injustices and to protect our communities from violence and hate. Many of us who sign this letter are white. At a predominantly white institution like Northwestern, we think it important to say that in order to disrupt any assumption that we condone the inequities of the racialized status quo. We do not, and affirm that these issues matter to us and require our urgent and intentional action.

            We share our colleagues’ conviction that your responses, and those of the University administration at large, to ongoing instances of violence at the campus, local, state, and national levels have been inadequate, bureaucratic, and complacent. We also feel that our individual colleagues who are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color—as well as academic units like the Department of African American Studies, and various campus offices devoted to DEI issues—too often stand alone in their public denunciations of anti-Black and racist histories, patterns, and practices at the University. This enormous problem is compounded by your administration’s quick and curt dismissals of their expertise in these matters, which we have witnessed repeatedly, including in recent weeks. We see a comparable, continual lack of engagement with BIPOC students in relation to the anti-Blackness and racism they identify and denounce across the campus, sustained over long periods of time.

            Month after month, you have distributed muted, highly abstract, and non-specific statements about several traumatic events, here on campus or elsewhere in the nation—including the murders and maimings of Black people of all genders at the hands of police, who routinely suffer no repercussion. What these difficult times call for is a leader who acts not precipitously or on the basis of personal experience only. Rather, what we need is someone who can listen to the experiences and felt pain of others; who can recognize that such feelings and the demands they give rise to are important even though they can sometimes be in conflict; and who can find a way to imagine, cultivate, and lead the way to a common ground we can all occupy together. As educators, teachers, scholars, intellectuals, activists, and front-line student support staff, we join our peers in insisting that you find a way to model such leadership in these desperate times.

Read the letter (with signatures) as sent to President Shapiro.