Black Student Experience Report Highlights Key Recommendations

Vice President of Student Affairs, Patricia Telles-Irvin, submitted a goal to the President in the spring of 2015 to better understand and strategically think about how to improve the Black student experience. The need to explore and address the needs of Northwestern’s Black students led the Division of Student Affairs creation of the Black Student Experience Task Force.

Student Affairs made it a priority to thoroughly review and improve the Black student experience. The task force was asked to examine not only recent data, but also situate this analysis within the context of the historic experiences of Northwestern’s Black students.

Fourteen themes and recommendations emerged from the survey, data, and focus groups. Student quotations supplement the full report, in recognition of the vast range of Black students’ narratives and experiences.

The following points summarize the report’s themes to direct progress, also synthesized in fourteen recommendations:

  1. There is much diversity within the African American/Black student community at Northwestern. This diversity makes it difficult—if not impossible—to describe a single, all encompassing, black student experience. Intersecting identities must be considered.

  2. “Being the only one” in multiple campus settings day in and day out is isolating, lonely, and exhausting for African American/Black undergraduates. Many wonder if they belong at Northwestern.

  3. Current undergraduate African American/Black student satisfaction with their overall Northwestern experience lags behind that of every other racial/ethnic group. Moreover, it is on the decline. There are a myriad of contributing factors.

  4. African American/Black student satisfaction is likely influenced by what is occurring elsewhere in the country as well as local campus bias incidents.

  5. Perceptions of the racial/ethnic campus climate at Northwestern vary among African American/Black students.

  6. Witnessing or experiencing harassment or discriminatory behavior is part of the everyday experience for many Northwestern African American/Black students.

  7. Not all African American/Black students experience Wildcat Welcome as welcoming.

  8. Summer and pre-orientation programs are powerful mechanisms to build community and sources of support. After Wildcat Welcome, African American/Black students described finding community within their residential units and in various student groups.

  9. Space is important to African American/Black undergraduates. This includes the Black House and spaces where African American/Black students feel comfortable socializing.

  10. African American/Black students do not feel a part of—sometimes even shunned by—the predominantly white fraternity and sorority community at Northwestern.

  11. The black community at Northwestern is welcoming for many African American/Black students but, at the same time, it can also be unwelcoming for others.

  12. Doubts about their own preparation for the academic rigor of college—sometimes just nagging self-doubt and sometimes reality—coupled with a lack of knowledge of where to go for help, breed frustration. This is particularly acute for African American/Black undergraduates in STEM fields.

  13. African American/Black students report many faculty are not trained or comfortable dealing with classroom micro- or macroaggressions and/or controversial topics. African American/Black students further report that cultural competency is lacking for many staff with whom they interact across the University.

  14. African American/Black students put forth numerous ideas to improve the black student experience at Northwestern. Leading the list was increasing the number of undergraduate African American/Black students.

Fundamental changes to community experiences require full participation. To better understand students’ expressed needs via data and student quotes, review the full report and its recommendations.