A Shared Northwestern Experience?

Photo by Spencer Cox at spencercoxphoto.com

Along the top of the door outside Room 101 in Northwestern University’s Communications Residential College are a series of darkened marks that are the only remaining sign of a fire that ravaged the residence over 20 years ago.

I saw the signs of a fire for myself after being told by a CRC alumnus over homecoming weekend. Accordind to the alumnus, the fire happened on the same night that William Arnold died of cardiac arrhythmia within in the building; his death prompted the beginning of Radiothon in 1988, one of CRC’s longest-running and most esteemed traditions.

It’s one of many stories that CRC alumni shared with the current residents and faculty associates of the residential college this weekend.

We also learned the history behind Illumihinman, one of our recently-forgotten traditions that involved shining as many lights as possible towards Hinman Hall across the street; the age where dry-erase boards were the only reliable form of interpersonal communication within the building; when CRC used to have an AM radio station right within the Radio Room.

Since CRC’s early days, we’ve grown and changed in many ways; of particular interest to myself, North by Northwestern was founded within the residential college’s corridors in 2006, where I am now the Director of Operations.

It’s a connection that I recognize many other students on campus do not have the privilege to enjoy. The rich and varied history of a residential college like CRC is available to only a tiny minority of those on the Northwestern campus, and those who do not participate in the residential college system — either as a resident or a non-resident — are not privy to this experience.

For me, my adventures and history with the Communications Residential College are one of the defining moments of my Northwestern experience. If I am ever to connect to the wider community of over 21,000 students at the graduate and undergraduate level across Evanston, Chicago, and Doha, Qatar, then I am going to perceive that experience through the lens of the student organizations and activities that I connected to during my time at Northwestern.

The idea of an elusive, shared Northwestern experience simply doesn’t exist for me, and I doubt it exists for anybody else. I don’t know if it’s possible to create a single, unifying experience for a diverse community of 21,000 individuals across three locations on the planet.

Could we not define our Northwestern experiences by our own individuality? Must there be things that collectively define our time and experience here, or could we not celebrate that our collective Northwestern experience is exactly that: a collection of unique, individual experiences while on campus, where we strive to work hard (possibly too hard) but create memories through our connections with each other and the wider world?