NIU discusses the role of political activism on campus throughout history

Colton Loeb

DeKALB— NIU hosted a Microsoft Teams meeting to discuss the role of political activism on campus throughout history at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24. 

The speakers included John Butler, NIU alumnus and Board of Trustees Member, Sue Doederlein, Emeritus professor, Cindy Henderson, NIU alumnus and Joe Sosnowski, NIU alumnus and Illinois General Assembly member.

The meeting was facilitated by Mathew J. Streb, chief of staff to NIU President Freeman and professor of Political Science at NIU. 

The first speaker of the evening was Cindy Henderson, former executive director of career services. Henderson spoke about the development of black studies in 1970 and the cultivation of activism on campus. One notable demonstration being the renaming of Douglas hall to Fredrick Douglas hall. 

Sue Doederlein, Emeritus professor and long time activist spoke about her experiences at NIU with activism in the 60’s. 

Doederlein created a chapter of the New University Conference in 1969 when she came to NIU. During her time at the university, she and the conference advocated for anti-war efforts during the Vietnam war, ending institutionalized racism and ending misogyny, she said.

NIU President Smith did a lot for activism on NIU’s campus, Doederlein said. Notably, after a sit-in in Lowden Hall in 1968 Smith listened to student voices and created the Chance program to change admission standards at the university to ensure that minority students could enroll at NIU. Smith also granted students the permission and support to form a black student union, she said. 

On October 15, 1969 NIU held its first peace march. 2,000 people attended and marched to protest the Vietnam war, according to NIU 125 key moments. 

John Butler, NIU alumnus and Board of Trustees member, spoke about student leadership and the political climate during his time at NIU. He witnessed a portion of the AIDS quilt displayed in the MLK commons. The AIDS quilt is a handcrafted patchwork of more than 50,000 handcrafted panels to commemorate more than 105,000 people who died of AIDS and related illness, according to NPR. The quilt was put on display in December of 1990, according to a 1990 Northern Star article. 

Butler spoke about the AIDS epidemic and its similarities to the times we face today. Butler asked those in the meeting to consider what would happen if today the U.S. president blatantly ignored the existence of coronavirus as Regan did with AIDS. 

Joseph Sosnowski, State Representative for Illinois District 69 and NIU alumnus spoke about his experience with activism on NIU’s campus and his work legislating in Springfield. 

During Sosnowski’s time on NIU’s campus he was Chief of Staff in student government and a Student Trustee. Sosnowski also reported for the Northern Star. 

Sosnowski said he often gathered input from students during his time in student government. One highlight of his time here was gathering input on the construction of the Holmes Student Center and being present for the board of trustees meeting in which NIU officials voted to approve the construction. 

The political process is about coming together and finding a pathway forward, Sosnowski said. This is how students can be involved in activism: starting with an idea, to help fix something that needs to change.