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Fall 2020

Confronting the Pandemic and Social Injustice

The crises of 2020 have brought forth the very best in the Northwestern community. By Morton Schapiro

Image: Matthew Gilson

This has been one of the most difficult years in the history of the world — and, as a consequence, in the history of higher education, here and around the globe.

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged the limits of institutions everywhere to respond and coordinate, and the results of that challenge have been unsettling so far. The global economy has suffered major upheaval along the way.

Then a historic wave of protests rose up against centuries-long anti-Blackness and systemic racial injustice.

Northwestern’s commitment to racial and social justice must be unrelenting. My fellow University leaders and I vehemently oppose anti-Blackness and police brutality. It should not be a controversial or a political statement to declare that Black Lives Matter.

We promise to work, individually and collectively, to seek justice and to better support our Black students, staff and faculty. We need to identify and address all forms of implicit and explicit racism and bias on our campuses. We must, and we will, do more.

Toward that end, we have asked leaders across the University to develop strategies to increase diversity within our community; hire, advance and support staff from underrepresented communities; expand diversity training and anti-racism programs and curricula for all faculty, staff and students; expedite the renovation of the Black House; and review the operations of Northwestern’s police department to ensure that all of our students, faculty and staff are safe and protected. We also commit to allocating $1.5 million for fiscal year 2020–21 toward advancing social justice and racial equity in Evanston and Chicago.

It became clear to me this spring that, at moments like this, the Northwestern community has an especially meaningful role to play. Our alumni, faculty, students and staff have been pacesetters in addressing the medical, economic and social emergencies that have shaken our society.

“It should not be a controversial or a political statement to declare that Black Lives Matter.”

This issue of Northwestern Magazine tells the stories of individuals in our community who have been playing extraordinary roles fighting the pandemic in recent months (see “The Stories of Our Lives”) and others who are leading change in our society through speaking out against injustices and racism, such as Northwestern professor kihana miraya ross (see “It’s Time to Abolish Schools”) The crises of 2020 have brought forth the very best in our people.

Members of the Northwestern community are able to lead and have an impact in part because of the strong foundation provided by We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. The Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising initiative in the University’s 169-year history, has helped support students facing heightened adversity, bolster high-impact research, and attract, retain and nurture the world-class faculty who expand the frontiers of knowledge and create meaningful contributions across every academic discipline.

Gifts from alumni, parents and friends have enabled our faculty to perform timely and urgently needed work, such as designing new materials to counteract shortages in personal protective equipment and other supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Through their gifts to our Student Emergency and Essential Needs (SEEN) Fund, Campaign supporters have also helped Northwestern students. This past spring, the University distributed more than $1.3 million in COVID-19 emergency grants to nearly 2,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students to cover their travel and learning technology needs as Northwestern transitioned to remote learning (see Showing Support,” “We Will” Update).

Our donors are also advancing Northwestern’s continuing work for social justice and increasing access to students from underrepresented groups. Examples include the Bluhm Legal Clinic, Black Arts Initiative, Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative (N3), Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools and Northwestern Academy–Evanston.

As we head into the final phase of this landmark campaign, we seek increased support for strategic opportunities across the University, while also prioritizing a number of emerging needs.

For example, maintaining a diverse and thriving student body is central to our mission. But because of the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus, we expect that students in the coming years will demonstrate higher levels of financial need. Scholarships have become even more important. And students’ need for SEEN funds and our Student Enrichment Services program will continue through the next academic year and beyond.

Also, as one component of our expanded commitments to social justice and racial equity, we’ve committed to raise new funds to support the diversification of our student body and of our faculty. We will be proactive in recruiting Black and other students and scholars of color at all levels by immediately providing resources to schools and departments so they can meet this commitment.

Another priority involves improving the academic, co-curricular and campus experience of our students and providing more opportunities for them to thrive. Through the Campaign, we’ve been able to establish 445 new endowed scholarships and fellowships that benefit thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. And Campaign gifts are enhancing student mental health and well-being: Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) was able to add five new staff members in Chicago and Evanston during the 2019–20 academic year to better support students both on and beyond campus.

You’ll recall that we publicly launched the “We Will” Campaign in 2014 with joint goals of raising $3.75 billion from at least 141,000 supporters. When we reached those totals two years ahead of schedule, we decided to extend the Campaign in order to invest further in Northwestern’s academic excellence.

The Campaign has continued to make remarkable progress, already nearing the $5 billion mark as we move toward a grand conclusion this academic year.

“Northwestern has a hard-earned and growing reputation for excellence, but that excellence is for a purpose: to be in a position to make the fullest possible contribution to our world precisely at moments like the one that we are in now.”

For Northwestern to fulfill its potential as one of the world’s best universities and for us to amplify its impact on society, all parts of its foundation — its vast array of research areas, its student body, its physical infrastructure and more — require careful attention and investment.

The “We Will” Campaign makes it possible for us to do just that, thanks to tremendous support across the entire Northwestern community, including more than 167,000 alumni, parents and friends who have made at least one gift during the Campaign.

In short, we’ve achieved so much, but we still have crucial work ahead of us and a short amount of time in which to accomplish it.

Northwestern has a hard-earned and growing reputation for excellence, but that excellence is for a purpose: to be in a position to make the fullest possible contribution to our world precisely at moments like the one that we are in now.

Each and every gift helps us to do just this, by advancing research discoveries and innovation, nurturing artistic excellence, preparing tomorrow’s leaders and expanding opportunity and well- being throughout our society.

I thank you for being part of the Northwestern family and our steadfast partner in these efforts.


Best wishes,

Morton Schapiro

President and Professor

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Reader Responses

  • While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in the message from the President of Northwestern University in your last issue, I almost missed its contents because I stopped reading after the first sentence: "This has been one of the most difficult years in the history of the world ... " Surely Mr. Shapiro did not write this!

    A little more rigorous editing would help, and sweeping generalizations, which are also untrue, only serve to undermine the credibility of the message. Some historical perspective even only starting in the common era and limited to the West would show that the fall of Rome, the start of the Black Death, the Thirty Years' War, the Napoleonic wars, World Wars I (accompanied by the Spanish flu of 1918) and II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were certainly more "difficult" years than 2020.

    A more apt comparison might be the awful year 1968, when worldwide political unrest and student protests (and against the Vietnam War in the U.S.), together with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, gave rise to the darkness of the Nixon presidency and its "law and order" sloganeering and corruption.

    Robert Brauning ’75 MS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., via Northwestern Magazine

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