Although author, activist, professor and artist Dr. Eve L. Ewing told Northwestern students and faculty on Tuesday evening that she was sick, she was, in her own words, “weak in body but strong in mind.” In the talk, she discussed her perspective on topics such as leadership, creativity and racial injustice in education — and also about the time she thought it was rude to enter her class at the University of Chicago while eating a churro without having any to offer them, resulting in a grand purchase of 25 churros.
The conversation, which was hosted by the SESP Leadership and Programming Board, was moderated by SESP Dean David Figlio, who asked questions about topics proposed by SESP students prior to the event. Ewing spoke as a part of the Nancy and Ray Loeschner Leadership series at Ryan Auditorium, where members of the audience were asked to move forward to make the talk more intimate and close-knit. Even with this request, when Ewing began speaking, the auditorium was full enough that the laughter resulting from Ewing’s witty comments rang throughout the room. Although Ewing said she would not describe herself as a leader, she offered students advice on how more effective leadership can bring about change.
“I believe in collected or distributed leadership,” Ewing said. “I think that if the world is going to change, we all have a role to play and strengths that we bring to the table to make that happen. All of us still have moments when we’re not so strong, and we need people to help us.”
Ewing focused this discussion of leadership in terms of racial injustice in education, though her advice on leadership extended far beyond this. Specifically, Ewing spoke about what contributes to these problems and how a solution will require more work than simply identifying disadvantages.
“The idea is that if you just show people how messed up we are, somebody is going to come help us,” Ewing said. “But the reality is no one is coming.”
Ewing, who grew up attending Chicago Public Schools, received an undergraduate degree with honors in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and completed her doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Since then, Ewing, as a sociologist of education, writer, poet and activist has become known for an extremely wide variety of different accomplishments, from having work published in The New York Times to writing the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics to co-authoring the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks.
“I see myself in a Black intellectual tradition that has always been that multidisciplinary and polymath thinking,” Ewing said.
In addition to these achievements, Ewing is also extremely well known for her Twitter account, which has over 180,000 followers and sees tens of millions of views each month. Micki Burton, the Program Assistant for Global Health Studies at Northwestern, attributed part of her excitement at hearing Ewing speak to her Twitter account, which Ewing often uses to discuss social issues.
“I just want to be inspired, and I think that I will be, because I’m inspired reading her Twitter,” Burton said. “I feel like I’m going to walk out of here thinking, ‘I know what I need to be doing now.’”
Throughout the course of her talk, Ewing offered plenty of inspiration for those in the audience. To students who feel as though they face injustice in the education system, Ewing offered three points of advice: the feelings they are having are real and valid, they deserve sufficient mental health care and should have better access to the history surrounding these issues.
“There may be instances when the university or institutions are acting in my favor because their interests converge with mine for that moment,” Ewing said. “But that’s not the same as loving me, or putting my well-being first or caring about me as a human. It’s my job to look out for myself and surround myself with people who do love me and see me as a human person.”
Ewing’s words attracted many different students from the university. Weinberg junior Amos Pomp, for example, said that he was drawn to Ewing’s talk because it gave him the opportunity to speak about subjects that might otherwise be considered uncomfortable.
“As a cis white man, I just find it very important at a predominantly white institution to seek out voices that will provide me with any knowledge that I don’t have already,” Pomp said. “Coming to hear Eve is especially important because she brings up a lot of topics that people aren’t always talking about.”
One of the main points that Ewing stressed in her talk was that positive change for minorities in education is dependent upon improvement in what actions are being taken and also in the way that marginalized groups are being talked about.
“Just in the same way that we don’t look in the mirror and see ourselves as the greatest trauma that ever happened upon us, we can’t look at our communities that way,” Ewing said. “It’s dehumanizing.”