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Donor Gifts Advance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Initiatives seek to diversify the Northwestern community, propel research and education, and enrich the student experience.

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Campus Inclusion and Community programs like Summer Academic Workshop help students of all backgrounds to thrive.

Winter 2021

The national conversation surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion is ongoing. Northwestern has responded by committing to advancing racial and social justice and making the University a more equitable and inclusive place for all — and generous donors are bolstering these efforts.

The renovation of the Black House — a space dedicated to serving Black students within the Northwestern community as a result of the 1968 Bursar’s Office Takeover — is being led by Multicultural Student Affairs and Campus Inclusion and Community, which strive to make Northwestern a place where students are safe and feel a sense of belonging. Structural, technological and aesthetic improvements include dedicated areas for large gatherings, quiet spaces for studying and updated offices on the upper floors. Construction began in summer 2019 and is expected to be completed this spring.  

While the University funded the renovation, donor gifts will enhance and care for the space. The Black House has received support from Alma Cates ’78 and Michael Sutton ’75, alumni who felt its impact firsthand. The couple also made a gift toward programming related to the Black student experience.

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Architectural rendering of the back of the Black House, which is currently under reconstruction

“The support and counsel I received from the Black House administration inspired me to work hard and strengthened my resolve to complete my degree under sometimes very trying circumstances,” says Sutton, who graduated from the McCormick School of Engineering. “The camaraderie and meetings at the Black House with other Black students provided meaningful social interaction and intellectual stimulation.” One of those students was Cates, who worked at the Black House while earning her degree from the School of Communication.

Social Justice Education, another area of Campus Inclusion and Community, creates co-curricular opportunities that foster self-exploration, facilitate conversations and support actions that create social change. A gift from University Trustee Paula Pretlow ’77, ’78 MBA is supporting social justice initiatives that advance equity at Northwestern.

The Peer Inclusion Educators program helps foster an inclusive learning environment by addressing issues surrounding personal awareness of social identities, power, privilege, oppression and social justice. The program hosts workshops for residential communities, athletic teams, student organizations and others. Pretlow’s gift helped increase student engagement through the training of 20 facilitators, who ran 40 workshops in 2019–20.  

Pretlow also supported the third annual Justice and Allyship Retreat, during which students met in small groups to discuss the types of oppression individuals of different identities face, what they envision for a socially just world and other topics. One attendee described the retreat as giving them a “newfound energy and sense of action and urgency toward spreading compassion and understanding.”

“My personal priorities and vision for impact at Northwestern are firmly centered in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Pretlow says. “My investment in Social Justice Education was a perfect match. The program continues to grow — now serving more than 3,400 students per year — and has become a national model.”

“My personal priorities and vision for impact at Northwestern are firmly centered in diversity, equity and inclusion.” —Paula Pretlow

Financial aid for students is a priority at Northwestern. It is further supported by alumni and friends, whose generosity makes it possible for students with financial need to attend the University and helps ensure that the undergraduate community more accurately reflects the world at large.

University Trustee Adam Karr ’93 and Tonia Karr have made gifts to endow three scholarships that also support diversity, equity and inclusion at Northwestern.

The Karr Scholars Program provides endowed support for undergraduates who have an interest in teaching in schools located in marginalized communities.

The Karr Achievement Scholarship provides endowed support for undergraduate students, with a preference for those who have demonstrated leadership in the Black community.

The Karrs also were lead donors toward a Promise Scholarship, which provides endowed support for undergraduates — with a preference for those who have shown a commitment to the Black community.

“Speaking from experience, knowledge of and access to resources can be a critical barrier for young, deserving students of color, which is why we created these opportunities,” Adam Karr says.

An anonymous gift to Northwestern Engineering supports diversity, equity and inclusion in its computer science department. The gift has enabled the school to partner with Chicago community organizations and the University’s Center for Excellence in Computer Science Education to recruit a diverse group of high school students for a two-week summer program emphasizing the creative and career possibilities of computer science. It also funds a laptop loaner program for students in the department who may not have the resources to replace their machine if it breaks down. The program has purchased two new computers that allow for the custom installation of software and non-standard operating systems these students require — and inspired students and faculty to donate four used laptops for refurbishment.

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