Established in 1851, remnants of Northwestern’s humble Methodist origin can still be found on campus--from the Garrett Seminary to the school seal to the mandated mile-wide gap separating the sorority quad and fraternity row. At the time, the university’s name still made relative sense, since it served students in the former Northwest Territory. As Northwestern grew, however, it became coeducational and dropped the religious affiliation (and 'Fighting Methodists' mascot). The first women enrolled in 1869, and shortly afterwards Northwestern merged with the Evanston College for Ladies in 1873. In 1892, the school abandoned their black and gold official colors for the less popular purple and white. Northwestern nearly merged with the University of Chicago in the 1930s, but the two remained separate and continue to maintain an academic rivalry today.
Thirty years later, the campus expanded significantly with the construction of a lake fill on Lake Michigan – a popular site for Frisbee-tossing and sunbathing coeds. Northwestern gained infamy in the 1970s as ground zero for two separate Unabomber attacks. In 2003, it made national headlines once again – this time for more positive reasons. Following a student investigation that led to the exoneration of a Death Row inmate, then-governor George Ryan issued a moratorium on executions in Illinois. Today, Northwestern is home to nearly 8,000 undergrads and over 5,000 graduate students. It has campuses in both suburban Evanston and downtown Chicago.
Northwestern’s Evanston campus, fenced in by Sheridan Road on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, is a campus divided. The South end primarily hosts dorms and classrooms for its well-known creative and communications programs, including theaters, a museum, concert hall, observatory, and the McCormick Tribune Center, which houses the Medill School of Journalism. The North end gathers engineering and research facilities, as well as rowdier student housing that includes frats and sorority houses (although there is a university-mandated “mile-wide” gap between sorority and fraternity housing).
Buildings on campus are usually fairly modern, big, well-maintained, and include touches of neo-Gothic architecture and stone construction to echo the East Coast Ivies. To get to more remote locales, like Ryan Field, students can bike, walk, or jump on the El at any of the four stops it makes close to campus. Behind the front gates at the South end, students are greeted by the typical grassy patches, walkways, and shady trees. The Lakefill (which covered several acres of lake with land) houses the Norris Student Center, a concert hall, and a field where students can walk, relax, and eat lunch on nice days.
Just outside of big city Chicago, Evanston provides Northwestern with an appropriately collegiate suburban support system right by Lake Michigan. Student-friendly clothing stores (Urban Outfitters, Gap, American Apparel), cafes, and bars are all within walking distance of campus in upscale downtown Evanston, and a nice selection of grocery stores (including a Whole Foods) and late-night diners keep Northwesterners fed. The town and campus share access to Lake Michigan’s shores, which attract beach and lake enthusiasts year-round.
Evanston’s half-dozen bars might seem like slim-pickings for a party scene, but considering Evanston was a dry town until fairly recently, there options feel sufficient. For real bar-hopping and city bustle, Northwestern students can jump on the Purple El-train running parallel to the university and be in downtown Chicago in a matter of minutes.
Evanston is a predominantly wealthy, suburban town and it has begun to push back against the condos and skyline-dominating academic buildings flooding in, spurring by the expansions of Northwestern and Chicago. Northwestern’s original deal with the town protects the school from having to pay property taxes on anything, so Evanston administrators (who do pay sizable property taxes on their large lake-front houses) have vocalized their displeasure over perceived sponging on the university's part.
Every significant campus event warrants re-painting “The Rock,” the remaining fragment of a fountain donated by the class of 1902. Now, students layer it in paint to advertise everything from athletic and student events.
Northwestern may have seen its football team enter a slump in recent years, but students are still proud to carry on a couple of Wildcat traditions, including jingling their keys at the opposing team during the kickoff (shorthand for “you’re going to park our cars someday”) and lighting the campus clock tower purple after a big win (this goes for other Northwestern team victories, too, depending on the season). One recently defunct tradition involved throwing marshmallows onto the field during football games for no official reason, but it ceased (mostly) at former football coach Gary Barnett’s request.
Having finals three times a year on the quarter system leads to a lot of undergraduate stress. To let off some stream, students participate in the “Primal Scream” at 9 p.m. on the Sunday before finals week. Out the windows, in the courtyards, or just taking an outdoors-break from the library, students yell at the top of their lungs before getting back to studying.
Many schools treat students to a springtime concert, and Northwestern is no exception, hosting a full slate of national bands on the weekend either before or after Memorial Day. What is unusual is the name: Armadillo Day, or, as it’s commonly known, Dillo Day. In good weather, the bands perform on the Lakefill land (the part of campus built on top of Lake Michigan), and students gather post-finals to unwind.
Saul Bellow (1937)is a Nobel Prize-winning author.
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Warren Beatty (1959) is an actor and Oscar-winning producer.
Charlton Heston (1945)is an Oscar-winning actor and former NRA spokesman.
Robert E. Mulholland (1955) is the former president of NBC.
Zach Braff (1997) is an actor, writer, and director.
Dick Gephardt (1962) is the former House of Representatives Majority Leader and Democratic U.S. representative from Missouri.
Andrew Bird (1995) is an American singer/songwriter.
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Northwestern’s Wildcat football team is sometimes the butt of many Big-10 jokes. As the only private university in the conference, Northwestern hold records for losses in Division I-A play, points allowed, and the longest losing streak in division history—-34 games. But the team has made strides, and even a few bowl appearances, towards building the program back in recent years. One place Northwestern’s football players do win is in the classroom, with a consistent 90 percent-or-better graduation rate for team members.
Other teams aren’t so unlucky. The women’s lacrosse program has won four straight NCAA championships, and softball, golf, swimming, and tennis teams are regularly competitive in NCAA play. In addition to the standard varsity offerings, Northwestern fields some intramural options for students, including soccer, ultimate Frisbee, floor hockey, and dodgeball.
The fences around campus were built in 1860 to keep cattle from wandering onto school grounds.
Cindy Crawford received a full scholarship to NU to study chemical engineering but dropped out after a quarter to model.
Northwestern’s improv and sketch comedy group Mee-Ow has a prestigious alumni roster, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dermot Mulroney, Ana Gasteyer, and Seth Meyers.
Compared to other universities, dormitory-living at Northwestern is relatively popular. Real estate prices in upscale Chicago ‘burbs are sky high, and Evanston is no exception. Many students live on campus both as freshmen and sophomores, and it is by no mean unpopular to continue living in the dorms junior year. That said, some university housing is much more coveted than others.
For those interested in the typical, party-hardy Animal House-in-a-dorm-style living, Bobb-McCullough Hall is definitely the dorm of choice. Bobb-McCullough houses nearly 600 men and women in (technically) two dorms attached at the center by a few massive “connector” rooms. Widely considered the most social dorm on campus, Bobb-McCullough sits just across the sidewalk from Fraternity Row and is home to drunken debauchery, laid-back C.A.s, and trash cans chained to the walls. With no air conditioning, perpetually stained carpets, and constant noise, it is not exactly luxury living, but few argue it wasn’t the time of their lives.
Just across Sheridan Road, Elder Hall is the only all-freshman dorm on campus. Known for its community-verging-on-cult atmosphere, Elder is populated by relatively social students as well as a large number of athletes. On the other side of campus, Allison Hall is the toned-down, artsy version of Bobb-McCullough. Allison parties, but stricter C.A.s and a quieter crowd make it more contemplative and less crazy. Unlike Allison, Elder, or Bobb-McCullough, Willard is a residential college--a smaller housing option with more community opportunities. Incoming freshmen must apply for placement in Willard, but it comes with dorm excursions, facilitated faculty meetings and increased student interaction.