This week President Joseph E. Aoun launched a new initiative to promote diversity and harmony at Northeastern, through the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), and a series of events to promote these values. These are certainly laudable efforts; it is encouraging to know that President Aoun and the administration recognize the need to encourage such ideals at Northeastern. The administration, faculty, staff and students alike should work together to carry out this vision.
It is clear there have been some minor issues brewing at Northeastern that require a response. Last December a menorah was vandalized on Krentzman Quad. The December prior, controversy surrounding a talk by the pro-Palestine activist Norman Finkelstein revealed a deep fissure between some students over the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Possibly most concerning, in September, an deceitfully named outside group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance began advertising a Facebook page entitled “Exposing Islamic Extremism at Northeastern University,” on which it accused Northeastern Muslim chaplain Abdullah Faaruuq and the Islamic Society of Northeastern of Islamic extremism. An email to students this week regarding the new initiative that was cosigned by PCDI co-chair Uta Poiger and vice president of student affairs Laura Wankel, said “campuses can … be subject to efforts, sometimes from the outside, to sow conflict based on religion, race, ethnicity, citizenship, sexual orientation or other individual traits,” a possible reference to Americans for Peace and Tolerance, whose Facebook group is still active.
While none of the aforementioned incidents are severe or critical, the administration seems to be recognizing the need to address any problems, as minor as they may be, before deeper conflicts arise. The administration should thus put in a considerable effort to ensure this new initiative is effective, and words like “diversity” and “inclusion” become values ingrained in the Northeastern community.
For one thing, the PCDI needs to find a way to encourage greater student involvement. President Aoun’s address Monday was mostly attended by faculty, staff and administrators. Any real effort will need to be student-based. There is only one undergraduate on the PCDI, student body president Peter Petrin. Petrin is perfectly suitable for the position, but he alone is insufficient in representing the student population. To encourage more student participation, other student leaders should be included in the process. Individual students should also make an effort to include themselves.
Regardless, this initiative is promising and verifies Northeastern’s commitment to be a progressive university. The minor problems Northeastern has had with inclusion could be found at any school, and pale in comparison to the problems found at some. But there is always room for improvement, for as Aoun said Monday, “Instead of being a microcosm of society, we need to be a model for society.”