Dear students, faculty, and staff colleagues,
This morning, our community welcomed its newest Freshman class at our 2016 Convocation. Under the lights of Matthews Arena, we celebrated the arrival of an extraordinary cohort of brilliant women and men from across the globe. It was a true festival of nations, in which people from nearly every country and creed joined in the spirit of new friendships, new learning, and new beginnings.
To me, the celebration was a moving reminder of the power of global education to convert difference into enlightenment and inclusion. It was proof that universities can offer the world an alternative to the intolerance that too often divides society.
We at Northeastern are ideally positioned to create a diverse, inclusive model to which society can aspire. That’s because we are a community of action, deeply engaged with the world in all its beauties and imperfections. Among universities, we are singular in our experiential ethos that integrates thinking and doing. We do not idly ponder challenges. We offer real-world solutions. And as a global community, our international members invaluably contribute to our diversity and increase our capacity to address global problems.
It is our obligation—indeed our opportunity—to undertake the hard work of positive change. It is our duty to move any obstacle in the way of human betterment. This work begins at home, and each of us must do our share.
Last semester, I wrote to you about our efforts to forge a stronger university by applying our innovative energies toward deepening diversity and promoting inclusion throughout our campus. As we continue to advance this vital endeavor, I call on everyone at Northeastern to engage in building a sustainable community on the foundations of respect, justice, and inclusion. We have taken important initial steps. Remember that the journey is a marathon, not a sprint. We will continue forward by committing to four interrelated and equally important actions in the year ahead: Respecting Difference, Engaging with Difference, Making a Difference, and Being the Difference.
My own, personal, journey has always reminded me that I am a product of tremendous genetic, social, and cultural diversity—as are we all. Nonetheless, every one of us must be vigilant against manifestations of intolerance. Northeastern is an inclusive community, so we will never countenance discrimination against any member of it. Muslim, Jew, gay, transgender, under-represented minority, or disabled, we are all due an equal dignity and an equal opportunity to voice our views.
ENGAGE WITH DIFFERENCE
But this does not mean uniformity of opinion. In tandem with building a sustainable community, we work for the free expression of ideas and the education of a new generation of culturally agile global citizens. Our mission is compromised if we shut out discordant viewpoints, even if they offend our most cherished convictions. Discomfort is sometimes a necessary condition of learning. But at this university, the conversation must never devolve into contempt, though it may rise in temperature.
This conversation will be facilitated across many facets of our community. Later this week, we will inaugurate a Center for Intercultural Engagement in the Curry Student Center. The Center is a result of the past year’s work toward deepening diversity and inclusion. It will create opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to explore their unique identities, engage with one another, and build bridges between our differences. I call on everyone to visit and learn about its programs.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This past year, the Academic Plan Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion, led by Provost Jim Bean, spearheaded our exploration of how to deepen our diversity over the coming years. They conducted thoughtfully engaging town halls and further broadened the conversation through the academic plan website and other community outreach initiatives. Moreover, they established the architecture to promote collective accountability across Northeastern, and guarantee measurable progress on:
- Building pipelines for diversifying our student body, faculty, and staff;
- Engaging past the boundaries of our campus and leveraging new partnerships for wider community impact;
- Deepening inclusion throughout Northeastern.
This important work will help guide us as we set the course for Northeastern’s future.
We’re making progress on the journey. In the academic planning process and other arenas, students, faculty, and staff have made immense contributions in creating a more diverse, inclusive environment. Furthermore, since January, we’ve taken measures to forge relationships with more than 100 schools in under-represented communities, draw more diverse faculty, and open conduits for diverse student admission and presence in global co-ops, including increased funding for the Presidential Global Scholars Program.
There remains much to do, and a more inclusive, diverse future requires action from all of us—students, faculty, and staff. Such action begins with the personal initiative to open our thinking, envision new ways to strengthen our community bonds, and learn from the rich variance of the Northeastern family. As we embark on this academic year, I urge each of you to join in our many programs and activities designed to deepen dialogue across our community. Our new Diversity and Inclusion website lists these opportunities and is a platform for our many diversity efforts.
BE THE DIFFERENCE
Intolerance and prejudice are not indelible—they vanish under the light of understanding. Individually, we each have the power to erase them from ourselves, and to be the difference. Collectively, we have the power to erase them from our classrooms, our places of work and living, and from our community.
If we persevere in this momentous task, we will make Northeastern a beacon of reason and inclusion.
Joseph E. Aoun