Northwestern University is kicking off the new year by taking a visible stance against racial injustice.
A flag emblazoned with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was raised outside of Norris University Center Tuesday, launching “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue,” a student-organized initiative to generate discussion about the state of Black lives in America.
Danielle Harris, a senior School of Communication and Weinberg student, is one of many organizers behind “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue.” For Harris, the flag’s placement outside Norris allows the message that “Black Lives Matter” to not only validate the experience of Black students and show administrators’ support for student’s beliefs, but also to reach campus communities that may not engage with the Movement for Black Lives, she said.
“It’s a call to people who haven’t been reached yet,” Harris said.
The flag serves as a symbol of the initiative’s mission, and is drawing mixed reactions from Black students across campus. To David Latimore, a Weinberg sophomore, the flag represents a degree of acknowledgement for Black students’ experiences, but university officials need to work harder to show they value diversity, he said.
Still, the sight of the flag waving at the Norris entrance was a welcome surprise, Latimore said. He hopes its presence will discourage discriminatory actions from those who disagree with the flag’s message, and will remind racist individuals that their hateful ideology is not welcome on this campus, he said.
“It was very cool that one of the biggest student hubs was able to have the declaration that Black lives do matter,” Latimore said.
Other students were wary of the gesture’s effectiveness. Treyvon Thomas, a Medill fourth-year said that while the Black Lives Matter flag seemed supportive, they were concerned that the nuanced definition of Blackness could not be condensed into a single flag and a few weeks of programming.
Additionally, the nature of the statement “Black Lives Matter” is misunderstood by some non-Blacks, who should not hold Black people responsible for educating them on racial issues, Thomas said. Although they were glad to see any effort being made to promote the discussion of Black lives beyond mere words of support, they worry that Northwestern students may not truly support the cause, Thomas said.
“It’s pretty easy for us in this space to just move on to the next issue,” Thomas said.
“Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue,” has been a source of controversy itself, given that it was largely organized independently of Black Lives Matter NU. Lauren Adams, a Weinberg sophomore and BLMNU member, said the group had been slighted. Although BLMNU’s Open Forum is part of the initiative’s programming, BLMNU had no other part in organizing the month’s events.
However, the purpose of “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue,” is not to undermine the efforts of groups like BLMNU, Harris said. Rather, it serves to support the actions of groups that have already been supporting the Movement for Black Lives on campus, she said. The initiative, which was not spearheaded by any one organization or person in particular, is meant to engage groups that had not previously been involved in the Movement, Harris said.
The events begin in earnest Wednesday, January 4th, with a screening of Ava DuVernay’s “13th.” A complete programming schedule can be found on the initiative’s Tumblr and Facebook pages. Events will occur throughout the next two weeks until January 17th, when the flag bearing “Black Lives Matter” will come down.
“These two weeks of programming are long overdue,” Harris said. “[The initiative] is about reaffirming that this statement is right. This statement is real. It shouldn’t be controversial.”