Column: President Aoun, do better


File photo by Dylan Shen

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun pledged to give part of his salary to COVID-19 research efforts.

Brittany Mendez, opinion editor

On June 1, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun released a statement in response to the rampant racism in our country, but he failed to address the root of the problem. Aoun’s letter was an empty, generic means of performative activism. For an institution that aims to be a “model for what our society can be,” I sincerely hope that is not the case for the sake of all Black people in America.

The title itself, “Campuses Can Close, Minds Cannot,” tiptoed around the real problem at hand and merely called for open-mindedness. It takes a lot more than just acceptance to address the racism in our country and our own Northeastern community. Open-mindedness is admitting Black and other minority students to the university, but in 2020, that is not enough. As a Black woman on this campus, my experience as a student is drastically different from my peers, and an open mind alone will not combat the racism that I and others experience. 

Aoun continued the statement by reflecting on the violence he witnessed as a Lebanese immigrant. As the child of an immigrant, I understand the unique challenges that come with coming to this country. However, Aoun effectively undermines the Black experience by referencing his own challenges as a white-passing man who “made it” in America. President Aoun, your hardships are not the same, and now is not the time to make it about you.

The only compelling part of the statement is when Aoun highlighted that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color due to systematic racism. He then quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and told us it is our duty to ask ourselves: “What will we do to make the world better?” Aoun made his priorities clear as he segued into his plans to reopen campus. This is not a solution, and you can do better. So I ask you, President Aoun — what actions are you taking to make the world better? What are you doing to combat racism within your own campus? 

While Northeastern’s Instagram may not have posted a black square in solidarity, this statement is equally performative and ineffective. Do better. Other students have expressed similar sentiments — just read the comments under the Instagram post. This statement was a PR move to make non-Black faculty and students feel like they belong to a progressive institution. Providing comfort to non-Black students is not making a difference and certainly not fighting racism. Those who are privileged enough to turn a blind eye to what is happening in this country are contributing to the problem. 

Not once did this statement mention the names of the unarmed Black people whose lives were unjustly taken because of police brutality. Since you did not say their names, I will: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless more.