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Northwestern University

Political Discussions at Work

Guidance from Beth Clifford-Smith, director of administration at Weinberg College

At the January Staff Advisory Board meeting, we had a thoughtful conversation about the current political climate and how this affects our staff.  We discussed how and when staff may engage in political events happening on campus, as well as how we should comport ourselves during a conversation that turns political.  We also discussed the boundaries between one’s personal and professional activities.  I want to thank the Staff Advisory Board members for their willingness to ask and discuss sensitive and difficult questions. 

These are complicated topics, and it’s difficult to provide guidance that covers every situation.  Nevertheless, I will try and provide useful advice here. In all situations, I ask that you keep in mind two things: 

I’ve provided below some guidance for navigating some of the situations you and your colleagues might encounter. 

Political conversations: The most prudent advice I could offer, of course, is to avoid these conversations, since they can easily become heated. I also recognize that this is impractical advice.  If you decide to have a conversation with colleagues about politics, do so respectfully. Pay attention to the way in which those around you are reacting to your statements. If colleagues speak stridently, advise a gentler tone. In Evanston and on our campus, it’s easy to think everyone holds the same political views, but we have a diverse population in all respects. Don’t assume that your colleagues feel the same as you. 

Events on campus: Staff may participate in events on campus, including political protests and demonstrations. For events during work hours, take the same steps you would before attending any event: think through whether it’s a good time for you to be away from your office and then speak with your manager.

Personal activities: The University respects that everyone has a private personal life.  Your political views and activities are your own. Just as the University will not interfere in your personal activities, you should avoid conflating your work at Northwestern with personal pursuits. For instance, use a personal email account, not a Northwestern account, for personal business. 

I hope the guidance above provides a basic outline for navigating current events and their impact on ourworkplace.  If you have a specific question or scenario to discuss, please contact me at or Hafiza Adam at

Beth Clifford-Smith
Director of Administration
Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences

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