Students filled an Annenberg lecture hall on Monday to take part in a presentation and discussion aiming to raise awareness of racial bias on campus.
The event, titled “Wake Up! Nommo” (described on the Facebook page as Swahili for “power of the word”), started with an audio presentation in which Northwestern students introduced themselves to the audience as scenes from their lives cycled across the screen.
The voices started by recounting their first thoughts of the university.
“There was a huge sense of unity,” said one young man. Another student stressed that while she didn’t come expecting a Utopia, she still sensed a positive community overall.
“It was great,” said another. “Are you kidding me? Coming to Northwestern, after my awful high school, middle school, elementary experiences? This place was like heaven on Earth.”
She went on to explain her elation, saying that there had never before been a black community that she could be a part of.
After a few minutes, however, the voices took on tones of disapproval and stories shifted to reflect the racial issues this event were bringing to light.
One student recounted his experience with the Community Service Officer in his dorm. “We would just watch white people strolling in,” he said, “drunk as fuck, not being able to stand up, walk past the CSO, walk past him, no questions asked.“
He went on. “We walk in, wearing the same thing we wear every night, looking like the same two dudes we are every day, and had to show him our WILDCard.”
“I have a lot of bitterness and baggage and hatred toward white people,” said another, adding that she’s simply come to expect petty racial incidents from whites.
After the presentation, the audience dispersed into a number of breakout sessions. In Annenberg G-32, senior Sandra Garnica, an organizing member of the event, guided the group in a discussion to define the problem and search for solutions.
Discussion centered for a time around the willful ignorance of many students at Northwestern, and how students going through their day- to-day lives without witnessing blatant racial bias doesn’t make it any less present.
“It’s the silent need to assimilate that I think grinds a person down at Northwestern,” said Ani Ajith, ASG’s newly elected President. “You’re just expected to go along with it, because that’s the mainstream.”
However, throughout the discussion Garnica persisted in driving conversation away from stating the problem, and toward finding a solution.
“We all watched the film,” she said. “It’s easy for us to just say, ‘well, shit’s fucked up. Shit’s always gonna be fucked up, and I’m gonna get my degree, get my money, get out.”
And that’s exactly what many students do, said Garnica. They just pass through. Depending on their race, many either shoulder the burden or pretend it doesn’t exist.
The term “post-race society” was brought up, considered, and quickly dismissed with the shaking of a dozen heads. But the group agreed that many at Northwestern still consider ideas like this to be true, and they found this unacceptable.
“We can organize against this,” Garnica said. “We can fight back.”
How? Ideas poked through: grow the conversation, socialize, get to know people who are different. Racial discussion, they said, will never get anywhere if people just keep ignoring it.
Photos by Anthony Settipani