After Northwestern: a call to remember

IMG_5616As an outgoing senior, I was asked to fill out a survey detailing my experiences, suggestions and memories from my time at Northwestern.

I was told my opinion mattered, and that it would help improve this place I have for four years called home. I was given all the freedom in the world, provided my answers fell along a scale of one to ten. The following are those observations I couldn’t quite fit in a Google Form.

To me, the daily rhythm of this university mirrors in so many ways the turning of some great machine. We see buildings go up; we see trees go down. We see football teams triumph; we see them shattered and shambling. We see children go in, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, we see adults come out.

I should have known how coming to school in Chicago would be. The city of broad shoulders, they call it, and just across its breadth you can still find the old husks and carcasses of the meat-packing industry that nourished the city itself — and the corruption and exploitation for which it has always been singularly famous.

I quickly realized that it’s a common misconception that the students at America’s universities are their cause, or even their customers. Often, however, it seems we are simply their product.

To see what I’m talking about, step over to the Alumni Relations and Development offices over at Church and Davis, or the John Evans Alumni Center south of Jones, and see the lavish quarters the University reserves for returning alumni — fresh from world domination and flush with potential philanthropy.

Slip down to stately Hardin Hall beneath the clock tower and the Rebecca Crown Center, where Northwestern entertains its visiting dignitaries. Take a walk through the beautiful new visitors’ center, monopolizing the view over the lake from the back of a parking garage. These places are not for students, and though we may visit they are not ours.

We see the signs every day that we are helping to “build a better Northwestern,” yet we see the dates of their completion scheduled for long after we have left. We see the names of wealthy donors scrawled like accredited graffiti upon the walls of our homes and classrooms. We see money changing hands every day, yet we only ever see it leaving our own.

Some things at Northwestern, we only half-see. Of the recurrent vandalism of menorahs and interfaith chapels, we see only the results. Of the marginalization of minority groups and students of color, we hear only the muffled cries. Of the frequent episodes of domestic abuse and sexual assault within our own student body, we see only the banners that advertise support and solidarity.

Through trial and trauma; through over-indulgence and folly; through even the deaths of our friends and fellow students, we are guided by the ever-prompt and perfunctory emails of President Morton Schapiro. And we rest easy knowing that the problems we face today will likely still be with us tomorrow.

I don’t want this to be read as a condemnation. To newly-accepted students, I say: by all means, choose Northwestern. It’s entirely possible to have an overwhelmingly positive experience here, as I and many, many others have done. But I think it’s also easy to overlook the problems that lie just beneath the surface, or outside the groups you join and the meetings you frequent. It’s easy to ignore big issues in favor of studies or sleep or grades. Just remember that in the end, you will most likely not be remembered for your contributions to discussion sections, or your hours spent working late in lab. But an open heart and a hand on the shoulder in a time of need— those are things that last a lifetime.

Finally, this is a reminder to those like me. Those on their way out, or those long gone, and already finding their way in a world after NU. To you I would say: Don’t forget about where you came from. Don’t forget about those who may suffer in silence, simply because their pain is not your own. And don’t believe that simply because something goes unseen, it ought also to go unheard or unchanged.

Be the change.


 

– Anthony Settipani is an investigative reporting fellow at The Medill Justice Project, a graduating senior in the School of Journalism and a former Editor-in-Chief of The Northwestern Chronicle.

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