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Northwestern, Sand Creek, and Inclusion

Message from President Morton Schapiro to the Northwestern community

Following is a message sent Nov. 24 to the Northwestern University community.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek massacre, in which U.S. Army cavalry soldiers killed approximately 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans, most of them women and children or elderly, on November 29, 1864, near Sand Creek in the Colorado Territory. During the past year, Northwestern engaged in an extensive study of John Evans’ involvement in that event. Evans was the governor and superintendent of Indian Affairs of the Colorado Territory at the time of this unprovoked attack. He also was one of Northwestern University’s leading founders, chair of its Board of Trustees for more than 40 years and a major donor to the University. The report of the John Evans Study Committee, which was issued earlier this year, is available online.

It can be difficult for an institution to examine its own history, but the report does an excellent job of investigating the events that link Sand Creek and Northwestern.

Last week I received another report, containing recommendations by Northwestern University’s Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force. The Task Force was established last year to recommend strategies to strengthen Northwestern’s relationship with Native American communities through recruitment efforts, academic programs and campus support services and to respond to the first report. That report is available online.

These two reports provide an excellent foundation for continued discussion of Northwestern’s relations with Native Americans. We cannot remove John Evans from Northwestern’s history; he unquestionably played an important role in the University’s founding and early years. However, we also should not ignore his failure to acknowledge his role in the events leading to Sand Creek and his refusal to condemn the massacre, one of the most horrific events in U.S. history.

Like American history itself, Northwestern has a contradictory record in how it has welcomed or excluded minorities. Northwestern was founded by fervent opponents of slavery who helped elect Abraham Lincoln. One of the early graduates of the medical school was Daniel Hale Williams, who was the first African-American member of the American College of Surgeons and who founded Provident Hospital in Chicago and hospitals elsewhere to train African-American doctors and nurses. Yet for years, Northwestern required African-American students to live off-campus in segregated housing, and the University did not actively recruit African-American students until pressed to do so in the 1960s. As the Task Force report notes, the number of Native American students remains woefully small. However, another early medical school graduate was Carlos Montezuma, a Native American who was instrumental in starting the Society of American Indians and an ardent supporter of Native American rights. Like other leading private universities, Northwestern was also known for years -- accurately or not -- as an institution that was not welcoming to Jews and maintained a quota system limiting the number of Jewish students. Yet thousands of students who are Jewish have benefited from a Northwestern education and gone on to become leaders in their professions, their communities and their faith.

In 1864, when Sand Creek occurred, Northwestern’s future looked doubtful. The Civil War, then in its fourth year, had decimated the University’s student population, with only 39 enrolled that fall. The University did not even have a president; instead, classics professor Henry Noyes had been pressed into a second tour of duty as interim president. Despite that, the University’s leaders kept looking to the future. Within five years, Northwestern had found a president, increased enrollment and constructed its first permanent building, University Hall, the clock tower of which remains a University icon today. Even more important, Northwestern’s trustees had voted to admit women, a decision in favor of inclusiveness that immediately distinguished Northwestern from many private universities in the East that would not admit women until nearly a century later.

Throughout its history, Northwestern has not merely weathered change in higher education, it has led it. From admitting women nearly 150 years ago to building an urban campus for its professional schools in the 1920s to globalizing its educational programs in the past decade, Northwestern has consistently moved forward. We need to continue to do so by making Northwestern a welcoming place for everyone.

I know many of you have heard me make this point before, but I believe it is important, so I will do so again: Our University should seek not just diversity, but inclusiveness. Our community is much more diverse than it has ever been in our history. Now we need to ensure that Northwestern is also a place where everyone feels welcome. When my family and I moved here, one of the things we appreciated most was how warmly we were welcomed into the Northwestern community. We were not just accepted, we were embraced. I want all our students, faculty and staff to have that same experience.

Therefore, as we pause briefly this weekend before the usual hectic end-of-quarter rush, I hope you will join me in reflecting on the many aspects of Northwestern’s history, resolving to make the University a truly inclusive community and continuing to look forward.

Best wishes,

Morton Schapiro
President and Professor

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