“It is through the integration of our differences that we truly thrive as a community. It is through this plurality that we live up to our highest calling—to be a community dedicated to human advancement.”
These words were at the heart of a campus address on mutual respect, understanding, and inclusion delivered by President Joseph E. Aoun last month. In outlining his vision for a more perfect Northeastern, he urged hundreds of students, faculty, and staff in attendance to embrace their diversity to reveal the community’s true strength, resilience, and vitality.
Aoun framed his remarks by explaining that some have recently questioned the university’s values and commitment to academic freedom and fairness. “Let me be clear,” Aoun said. “If anyone in this community feels that they are not full members of the Northeastern family, that is unacceptable. If anyone in this community has ever felt marginalized because of her faith, color, orientation, or beliefs, that is unacceptable.”
He underscored the point by sharing a series of personal anecdotes of life growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, where he co-wrote his first book with a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim.
“Unfortunately, my native country was torn apart by a war of religions,” he said. “I lost friends and families. I lost classmates—all in the name of religion.”
Aoun’s speech also announced the formation of the Presidential Council on Inclusion and Diversity, co-chaired by law professor James Hackney and Uta Poiger, interim dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. The team of 16 students, faculty, and administrators will champion diversity throughout Northeastern, starting with a yearlong series of events on conflict, civility, respect, and peace.
Aoun said that in his first meeting with the new council, he was introduced to the concept of “civic sustainability.” He added, “I believe that we can be leaders in this domain in the same way that we have leadership in environmental sustainability.”
Aoun concluded by saying the university community should pursue a new “social compact” that allows every member of the university to participate fully and freely in all aspects of the institution. “Let us go forth and build this compact, one that is pluralistic, inclusive, and exciting,” he said.