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Northwestern expands social justice and anti-racism learning

Northwestern University has expanded social justice and anti-racism learning to 250 leaders across the University. The three-part series, called the Next 250, is underway with the first session already completed.

Northwestern partnered with Justice Informed, a Chicagoland social impact consulting firm to provide, in their words, “a challenging, constructive and educational space for Northwestern’s leadership ... to gain the capacity, competence and confidence to understand what it takes to lead antiracism and social justice efforts within their respective departments and units.”

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Leaders will not engage purely in theoretical discussions, but also will focus on behavior shifts and action steps to ensure we lead from an anti-oppression lens to create lasting change at Northwestern.

TiShaunda McPherson
Senior Associate Vice President of Equity

“Accountability is a key theme in this fall’s anti-racism program," TiShaunda McPherson, senior associate vice president of equity, said. "Leaders will not engage purely in theoretical discussions, but also will focus on behavior shifts and action steps to ensure we lead from an anti-oppression lens to create lasting change at Northwestern."

Justice Informed develops its learning strategies by centering the experience of marginalized and minoritized individuals and focusing on relational specificity, which allows participants to reorient their learnings toward restoration and empowerment.

The series includes discussions on race, racism, anti-racism, intersectionality and how to practice anti-racism at the individual, organizational and societal level. Sessions will challenge each leader to examine their role in perpetuating racism and to identify specific steps to create demonstrable improvements in Northwestern’s culture and climate. Leaders will leave with clear actions to advance equity and inclusivity in their spheres of influence.

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To see the kind of changes we're hoping for at the University, we all have to be rooted in shared perspectives and learnings.

Kathleen Hagerty

Justice Informed created this series for Northwestern after receiving feedback from members of the University community through an anonymous survey, focus groups and interviews with DEI leaders. They learned that community members are eager for intentional and effective strategies to address systemic barriers to being a more inclusive campus and that, while well-intentioned, previous efforts have fallen short of advancing change. They also heard that staff and faculty are looking to University leadership to amplify this work as a sincerely held value at Northwestern by being engaged in and leading the charge.  

Learning for senior leaders

Justice Informed’s anti-racism program builds on the transformational work Northwestern began last year after announcing ten social justice commitments. It is intended to aid the University in becoming a leader in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice.

Last fall, the top 50 senior leaders at the University, including President Morton Schapiro, Provost Kathleen Hagerty and Executive Vice President Craig Johnson, completed 10 hours of foundational social justice training and, in February 2022, will engage in anti-racism learning with Justice Informed. This will ensure all leaders at the University are rooted in the same foundation of anti-racism practices.

“Senior leaders are committed to investing in our campus community and holding ourselves accountable; we're not just pushing this responsibility down,” McPherson said.

Provost Kathleen Hagerty agreed saying, “I learned a lot in our senior leader program last fall, and I learn a lot about these issues every day. These programs and shared education have made the University a better place. We still have a lot to do, but this is a step in the right direction. I appreciate Justice Informed for facilitating this program, and I appreciate everybody who has done all the hard work to bring this to our leaders.”

“I also want to thank all of the leaders in the Next 250 who are participating in this work,” Hagerty said. “To see the kind of changes we're hoping for at the University, we all have to be rooted in shared perspectives and learnings.” 

Introducing campus-wide digital learning

Northwestern also is announcing a campus-wide digital learning series on social justice and anti-racism topics that will be available to all faculty, staff and students. The series will comprise three custom, on-demand learning modules about structural racism and how institutions of higher education have been impacted by systems perpetuating oppression; the University’s history of and involvement with racism; the manifestation of oppressive structures in University policies, procedures, decision-making and interpersonal interactions; and identifying, understanding and uprooting implicit bias in order to move toward allyship.

This digital learning, which will be available in spring 2022, is being co-created with Northwestern scholars and DEIJ experts, and Language and Culture Worldwide (LCW), a consulting firm that specializes in developing custom anti-bias, inclusion and cultural competence trainings. The primary goal of these modules is to develop a shared foundational understanding of key concepts related to anti-racism within the Northwestern community to enhance our mission of inclusivity.

Looking forward, Northwestern will continue to explore opportunities for advancing a culture of access, inclusion and belonging. 

“The Office of Human Resources is going to continue to partner with the Office of Equity to create additional training and other resources for our campus community,” Priya Harjani, the interim vice president of human resources, said.