Aoun: ‘We need to be a model for society’

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun pre­sented his vision for a more per­fect North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Monday after­noon, urging stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff to embrace their diver­sity in order to reveal the community’s true strength, resilience, and vitality.

“It is through the inte­gra­tion of our dif­fer­ences that we truly thrive as a com­mu­nity,” Aoun told a packed Fenway Center. “It is through this plu­rality that we live up to our highest calling—to be a com­mu­nity ded­i­cated to human advancement.”

He framed his 30-​​minute speech on diver­sity and inclu­sion by explaining that some have recently ques­tioned the university’s values and com­mit­ment to core prin­ci­ples such as aca­d­emic freedom and fairness.

“Let me be clear,” Aoun said. “If anyone in this com­mu­nity feels that they are not full mem­bers of the North­eastern family, that is unac­cept­able. If anyone in this com­mu­nity has ever felt mar­gin­al­ized because of her faith, color, ori­en­ta­tion, or beliefs, that is unacceptable.”

Aoun under­scored the point by sharing a series of sto­ries high­lighting Northeastern’s cul­ture of inclu­sion, mutual respect, and under­standing across reli­gious tra­di­tions. After the university’s Menorah was van­dal­ized in November, Aoun explained, stu­dents of Northeastern’s Islamic stu­dent group wrote a heart­felt letter that they shared with North­eastern Hillel. The letter read, in part, “We stand in sol­i­darity with our Jewish brothers and sis­ters against all acts of hate, prej­u­dice, and anti-​​Semitism.”

Aoun shared some per­sonal anec­dotes as well, including sto­ries of growing up in Beirut, Lebanon. “Unfor­tu­nately, my native country was torn apart by a war of reli­gions. I lost friends and fam­i­lies. I lost class­mates in the name of reli­gion. This was unac­cept­able to me and it remains unac­cept­able today.”

In a speech on Monday afternoon in the Fenway Center, President Joseph E. Aoun urged Northeastern students, faculty, and staff to embrace their diversity.

Aoun also announced the formation of the Presidential Council on Diver­sity and Inclu­sion. The council will be com­prised of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff and co-​​chaired by law pro­fessor James Hackney and Uta Poiger, interim dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Humanities.

As part of the council’s activ­i­ties, William Fowler, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of His­tory, and William Wakeling, dean of the uni­ver­sity libraries, will under­take a thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion of Northeastern’s past.

“Like many of our peer insti­tu­tions, we have reason to believe that there may be chap­ters in our his­tory that we are not proud of,” Aoun said. “We will thor­oughly review our archive and we will share what we find.”

In addi­tion to Hackney, Poiger, Fowler, and Wakeling, other mem­bers of the council are: Agnes Chan, pro­fessor and asso­ciate dean in the Col­lege of Com­puter and infor­ma­tion Sci­ence; Dick Day­nard, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor and chair of the Fac­ulty Senate Agenda Com­mittee; Michael Dukakis, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor; Phil He, asso­ciate pro­fessor and asso­ciate vice provost; Rehan Kahn, vice pres­i­dent for Infor­ma­tion Ser­vices; Alex Kern, director of the Center for Spir­i­tu­ality, Dia­logue and Ser­vice; Lori Lefkovitz, pro­fessor and director of Jewish Studies; Zach Pardey, pres­i­dent of the Grad­uate Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion; Peter Petrin, pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­a­tion; Carmen Sceppa, asso­ciate pro­fessor of health sci­ences; and Suzanna Wal­ters, pro­fessor and director of Women’s Studies.

Aoun closed his speech by noting that one of the best parts of his job is attending campus events that cel­e­brate dif­ferent groups within the com­mu­nity, including the Vet­erans Day cer­e­mony, the Martin Luther King, Jr. con­vo­ca­tion, and the Holo­caust Aware­ness Breakfast.

“These indi­vidual cel­e­bra­tions should not stand in iso­la­tion,” Aoun said. “While they are impor­tant and have deep meaning for the groups involved, they make up a much larger tapestry. This rich, diverse, and com­plex tapestry is the North­eastern community.”