The search for knowledge is not a quest for one infallible truth, nor a process of judgment to determine who is right and who is wrong. It is a journey to a place of deeper mutual understanding, to a state in which each of us can dwell more comfortably amid the ambiguity that is inherent in the world’s vital debates and questions—and indeed, in our own humanity.
Today, we are witnessing an unfortunate trend of demonization within our public discourse. Disagreements about difficult issues all too often deteriorate into a framing that diminishes all of us: One side is good and the other is evil.
This tendency to believe that one’s views are not only correct, but also morally superior, has led to a corrosive coarseness in our society—and on our campuses. In many ways, demonization has become the easy path. It is a choice to tear others down instead of lifting us all through the power of ideas.
I have long believed that universities have an obligation to be more than mere microcosms of society—we must be a model. In recent weeks, events have tested the strength of this proposition at Northeastern. We have seen passionate, respectful discourse give way in some instances to crass stereotyping, gross distortions of facts, and personal demonization.
We can and must do better. I believe that yesterday our community took an important step.
Last night, members of the Israeli Knesset appeared in Blackman Auditorium for a town hall meeting that delved into a wide range of geopolitical issues. Shortly beforehand, an event in the Curry Student Center featured remarks by an author who spoke passionately on the Palestinian cause, while outside Krentzman Quad, a group of students demonstrated peacefully in support of the same issue.
In many ways, the juxtaposition of these three events is an example of Northeastern at its best. These events can show us the way forward.
Let us use this moment to rededicate ourselves to the idea that the light of learning is made brighter when we differ, but obscured and darkened when we demonize. As long as I lead this institution, I will always believe that although we may hold divergent convictions, we can still converge in ways that enhance our appreciation of each other’s perspectives—and each other.
May all of us—the members of the strong, beautiful, vibrant community that is Northeastern—now continue on this journey, together.
Joseph E. Aoun