What does the university owe to you as a student?
This was one of the three questions posed during the breakout session at the launch party for Sky Patterson and Emily Ash’s campaign for ASG president and executive vice president, respectively. The breakout session was crafted, after the campaign manager for Sky and Em, Jillian Gilburne, noticed a trend “repeated over and over and over again of people feeling like they have all of these ideas, wanting to fix things … but because they can’t find the other people on campus who are interested in those things, they end up frustrated and alone.”
One student in the audience indicated that Northwestern owes students “clear policies,” pointing to the school’s protest policy and gender-inclusive housing policy as evidence of a lack of transparency. When asked if Northwestern fell short of her initial expectations, Communication senior Elizabeth Zerihun expressed her surprise at the lack of accessibility for students.
“I was expecting more accessibility to resources because I knew that Northwestern has an abundance of programs and resources designed for us,” Zerihun said. “I’m a senior now, and the fact that I learned a lot about what Northwestern has to offer through word of mouth, and I feel like is a problem.”
When asked about her position on student diversity, Patterson, the candidate for president, expressed her concerns with the future of Northwestern’s 20 by 2020 campaign.
“We also want to be 20 percent Pell-eligible in the future, and currently I don’t think that Northwestern has the adequate infrastructure to be able to support students of color and students of low-income status,” Patterson said.
Gilburne quipped that in the United States “there’s been a history of administrators ignoring students,” and noted that at the University of Chicago from the 1920s to the 1940s, the administration responded to “student agigtators,” or any student who said “Hey, I really would appreciate it if you just stopped treating me like a second-class citizen at this university” could be “reported to the FBI.”
While Gilburne insists that, “we are no longer in that place – to my knowledge, Northwestern has not reported students to the FBI, which is really exciting,” she noted that the culture of advocacy and action on campus has been met with resistance.
“The university sometimes still shuts down voices, or more often just doesn’t listen to people, so we had this idea to have everyone in this room put together a student bill of rights, or expectations,” Gilburne said.
Patterson also expressed concern for how Northwestern’s productivity culture affects students’ wellbeing.
“We’re very stressed at Northwestern, Northwestern is a very stressful environment. When is the last time that you just sat in your bed on a Saturday and read poetry, or read a manifesto and talked to your friends about it?” Patterson said.
Despite their concern for Northwestern’s perceived shortcomings, Sky and Em advocated for positive changes on campus on everything from access to sexual health products to their unafraid campaign. Ash, the candidate for vice president, discussed her hopes for the future of sexual health product accessibility on campus.
“One of the policies for sexual health is having sexual health products in dorms. Currently, you have to go all of the way to the HPAW office to grab some dental dams or some condoms, and then walk all of the way back to your dorm. That’s not really realistic, and that’s not really what happens, so having it right where students live is something that we want to see,” Ash said.
Ash also emphasized the importance of increasing spaces on campus for students, specifically LGBTQ+ students.
“We are interested in expanding existing spaces on campus for LGBTQ+ students. The [Gender and Sexuality Resource Center] right now, as wonderful as it is, is somewhat difficult to find,” Ash said.
Patterson expressed her hopes for the future of student inclusivity on campus, specifically in student groups. She indicated that it’s a “very relatable experience” to come to Northwestern and “get rejected by eight different student groups,” and shared her vision for more inclusive student groups.
“Making student groups more inclusive, making campus more inclusive physically and figuratively, that means gender inclusivity, trans inclusivity, making it more inclusive for low-income students,” Patterson said.
In their campaign video, titled “We’re Unafraid,” Ash says, “We’re unafraid to fight for the student body.” In an interview following the launch party, Patterson offered her vision for a campus that is “unafraid to be themselves.”
“Whether they are a low-income student, a trans student, a non-binary student, an LGBT student, a Jewish student, an African American student, that they are unafraid to take whatever classes they want without worrying about the cost, to be able to go to parties without worrying about what is going to happen to them, basically unafraid to make the most out of their experience at Northwestern,” Patterson said. “This is an exciting time in someone’s life, and I want people to go after their goals, their dreams in an environment that isn’t holding them back for reasons like income or who they are.”