Protest erupts at NU groundbreaking ceremony

Students protest during athletic center event. (Haydee Clotter/Medill)

By Haydee Clotter

Hundreds of Northwestern University students crashed the groundbreaking ceremony for NU’s athletic center this month, protesting that they didn’t understand how NU could build a multimillion dollar facility when there isn’t enough office space on campus to house organizations that cater to minorities.

The protestors showed their solidarity with University of Missouri students over recent incidents aimed at African-American students.

Missouri students forced the resignation of President Tim Wolfe over lack of university action in response to several racial discrimination incidents against blacks students there. One student received a picture of a black woman getting lynched, someone smeared a swastika on a wall and a white person played music featuring racial slurs, according to the Seattle Times.

The Missouri football team joined the student demands for Wolfe’s resignation in the wake of the incidents and he did resign Nov. 9.

“This Mizzou incident was literally years in the making,” said Jade Mitchell, an NU student majoring in psychology and African-American studies. “We knew it was going to happen.”

At Northwestern, protestors say the university is invading on space in the Black House, where African-American students plan events, conduct meetings and socialize in what they consider a safe place.

The athletic center will include a full-sized indoor athletic field and a strength conditioning space for Olympic sports teams at the Ryan Fieldhouse. The Walter Athletics Center will be the home to NU football and a nutrition and dining center.

But initial recommendations by administrators would have placed two administrative offices in the Black House. The offices of Campus Inclusion and Community at Scott Hall would move to the Black House.

This change would affect organizations such as the Mixed Race Student Coalition, South Asian Student Alliance and African Student Association, which all gather at the Black House. Many of the historically black fraternities and sororities also gather at the Black House.

The protest was advertised on Facebook, and students from a variety of racial backgrounds joined together. They demanded the creation of a resource center and technology hub tailored to black students.

“There are people in this world who have people power and people who have power of their paycheck,” said sophomore Gwendolyn Gissendanner, a senator for For Members Only, a part of the Black Student Alliance that encourages social and cultural unity within NU’s community.

“We’re not trying to be exclusive, we’re not trying to exempt people, but we just want one space on this largely white campus that caters to us,” Gissendanner said. “We want them to leave it alone. We want them to invest in our future.”

The protestors said NU is trying to take away resources from minorities. Different minority student organizations would be affected by having less office space for meetings.

Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin posted a message on the university’s website to address the Black House issue that read, “For now, I am suspending the proposed office location changes and halting any facilities improvements that have not yet begun. This effort is to build greater understanding and transparency in order to best serve our Black/African American students.”

Four Black House sessions were scheduled to give students the opportunity to have an open conversation about Black/African-American experiences at Northwestern.

“We have to let students know they’re not alone,” Mitchell said. ​​

Photo at top: Students protest during athletic center event. (Haydee Clotter/Medill)