By Gail Waterhouse, News Staff
Northeastern is working to embrace a more pluralistic approach to diversity, President Joseph E. Aoun announced in a speech Monday afternoon.
Speaking in the Fenway Center to a packed crowd of mostly faculty, staff and administrators, Aoun declared the university has assembled a Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), which will meet periodically and discuss concrete steps Northeastern can take to create a more inclusive community.
Though not seemingly prompted by any particular action or event that has happened on campus, Aoun mentioned the vandalism of a menorah on campus that happened late last semester, and said questions have been raised about the university’s commitment to some of its values.
“Some have questioned whether we believe that our diversity is a source of division or a source of strength,” Aoun said. “And some have questioned our commitment to core principles such as academic freedom and fairness.”
Considering the variety of countries Northeastern students call home, Aoun said, as well as the multiplicity of races, faiths and sexual orientations that comprise Northeastern students’ backgrounds, diversity at Northeastern must be “pluralistic, not multidimensional.”
“We need to be a model for society,” he said. “If anyone in this community feels that they are not full members of the Northeastern family, that is unacceptable.”
Toward the end of his speech, President Aoun introduced the members of the diversity council, which had its first meeting last Friday. In total, there are 16 members.
The members come from a variety of academic departments on campus, including history, health sciences, women’s studies and Jewish studies. The council’s co-chairs are law professor James Hackney, Jr. and Uta Poiger, interim dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.
The two students on the panel are Student Body President Peter Petrin and Zach Pardey, president of the Graduate Student Association.
Both co-chairs said they will work to bring students’ perspectives to the council.
Though few students attended the announcement, Petrin said he wants to include the undergraduate population in the council’s conversations.
“The last thing we want is for students to feel left out, which is what I think some people feel like now,” he said.
Aoun said his intention for the council was to create quantifiable solutions for improving interactions on Northeastern’s campus.
During Friday’s meeting, the council suggested one way to measure progress: through civic sustainability.
“In the same way we assess environmental sustainability on campus, they are encouraging us to assess our civic sustainability,” Aoun said.
In addition to discussions among the council itself, Aoun also outlined three tasks he has given members.
The first is a “thorough investigation of our past” as a university, which will be led by history professor Bill Fowler and librarian Will Wakeling.
Citing the belief Northeastern may have dark parts of its history, Aoun said the historical review was “not a way to look backwards, but as a way to chart our future.”
The other two assignments Aoun gave the council will engage the community directly, with two series of events and discussions, one focused on “interfaith harmony” and the other with more academic subjects.
In an email sent out to all students Tuesday, interim dean Poiger announced the start of the academic series – six events over the course of a year. A website set up with more information about the program lists its name as “Conflict, Civility, Respect, Peace: Northeastern Reflects.”
“Each event will trace the arc from recognizing conflict or injustice to building peace,” Poiger wrote in Tuesday’s email.
Former Massachusetts Governor and Distinguished Professor Michael Dukakis will host the first event, “Understanding Hate,” on Feb. 25.
In addition to these new events, Aoun listed some of the ways Northeastern celebrates diversity, including the annual Holocaust Remembrance Week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convocation and other cultural events.
“These individual celebrations cannot and should not stand in isolation,” he said, remarking that such events are “not for a specific group – they are for the community as a whole.”