Our Commitment to Addressing Racism
Sept. 24, 2020
I had the opportunity Wednesday to see more than 200 students come together, wearing their masks, in a peaceful campus march calling on NIU and the DeKalb community to recognize that Black lives matter. I listened to them describe what they need to feel safe and truly part of our university, appreciated their honesty and have reflected on their fears. I also heard about the importance of making certain that our statements are followed with action steps that will lead to real and tangible change.
I am committing NIU to do the hard work necessary to address systemic inequities and foster a more inclusive campus culture, knowing that achieving some goals and outcomes will require sustained, long-term effort, while other actions can be taken immediately. In the short term, I want you to know about the additional actions we’re taking to support our community since I first communicated about the racial slur spray-painted on the side of Center for Black Studies last week.
NIU’s Police Department, with support from DeKalb Police, continues to investigate the incident and has offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. In coordination with the center, we’ve increased patrols, are working to improve lighting in the area and exploring additional supportive measures.
I also heard our students express that their safety concerns extend beyond the campus and into the DeKalb community, and I have shared this with city officials. NIU is committed to working with the city to address how racism only divides a community rather than builds it. We’ll explore these opportunities more deeply in an upcoming event that the university and the city are co-sponsoring and is detailed later in this letter.
NIU Police are also seeking information about the individual(s) who chose to use vile, racist language during a recent Zoom call intended to bring NIU students, faculty and staff together to express the very real fears and frustrations our Black colleagues and students face. Members of the public could dial into the Zoom discussion and, sadly, a few unknown individuals used it as an opportunity to spew hatred.
There is no logic behind these types of acts, only bigotry and the intent to hurt. Will we let it deter us? Absolutely not. In fact, we saw Wednesday afternoon that it only invigorates our community to do and be more, to not be silent and to embrace the hard work and self-awareness necessary for justice to be achieved. As incidents happen and issues arise, please continue to use the university’s bias incident report so that we are aware and can appropriately address.
As a university, we must continue to invest in self-care, education and meaningful dialogue about what it takes to dismantle racism and how to create and sustain a university community where every Huskie feels valued and has the opportunity to thrive. Here are a few ways we’ll be doing that in the coming weeks and months:
- Our Black students and other students of color need to be able to share their thoughts and seek guidance from those who can speak to shared experiences. We are working now to secure mental health counselors of color to supplement existing university counseling services, and our aim is to have them be available later this semester.
- This fall, we’ll host multiple, virtual events and town halls covering race, equity and coalition building as part of our Social Justice Education initiative. For some, these might be difficult or uncomfortable conversations, but they will provide the catalysts for new knowledge and change.
- To help build an inclusive community, with lasting relationships, NIU, the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence and the City of DeKalb will come together for a virtual discussion facilitated by Dr. John Powell. Dr. Powell is currently professor of Law; professor of African American and Ethnic Studies; the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion; and the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, all at UC Berkeley. We will be utilizing his expertise in civil rights, racism and ethnicity in a dialogue Oct. 22 to help foster a community of belonging.
- This year’s common reading experience at NIU – “When They Call You a Terrorist” – written by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Movement, and Asha Bandele, is especially timely and accessible. I encourage you to read it for its power to open both the mind and heart with its candid insight on racism and hope.
- We will also continue to pursue the four key areas outlined in my Aug. 12 message supporting the hiring, retention and advancement of faculty, staff, researchers, scholars and artists who are Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); as well as reviewing and improving the NIU experience for our BIPOC undergraduate and graduate students. These efforts will also be specifically addressed in the university’s goals presented to the Board of Trustees this November.
In addition to the actions and opportunities presented above to make sure our Huskies are heard and a part of change, our Center for Black Studies and the James B. and Rosalyn L. Pick Museum of Anthropology are working together to bring the Hateful Things exhibition to campus this spring. The exhibition will showcase a collection of more than 10,000 artifacts that represent nearly 150 years of anti-Black, racist objects and images. Our hope is that, by examining and reflecting on these historic and modern-day expressions of racism, we can foster racial understanding and healing.
During last week’s town hall and the past several days, we’ve heard from students, student organizations, faculty and staff that you want to help, be involved and are even willing to contribute to the reward – which speaks to the heart of what it means to be a Huskie. The Center for Black Studies has taken the past few days to reflect on the outpouring support and requests that any donations be directed to bringing the Hateful Things exhibition to NIU and to supporting its related educational activities and events. More information about the exhibit and contributing is available online.
NIU is working to change so that we can be a more inclusive university. I welcome every Huskie to help us get there by using your voice and actions to show that hate has no home or future at NIU.
Lisa C. Freeman