Northeastern reflects on conflict, civility, and respect

North­eastern fac­ulty and admin­is­tra­tors on Monday evening encour­aged stu­dents to embrace their diver­sity across cul­ture, race, reli­gion, eth­nicity, sexual ori­en­ta­tion, and many other forms in an effort to build a stronger and more resilient campus community.

“Building bridges across our dif­fer­ences is essen­tial for estab­lishing sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties over the long term and for edu­cating global cit­i­zens,” said Uta Poiger, co-​​chair of the Pres­i­den­tial Council on Inclu­sion and Diver­sity and interim dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties. “Our work abroad can only be effec­tive if we care­fully reflect on our chal­lenges at home.”

The sen­ti­ment was repeated throughout the first event in a year­long edu­ca­tional series on “civic sus­tain­ability,” which focused on hate crimes, inter­group rela­tions, and campus cli­mate. The series—Con­flict. Civility. Respect. Peace. North­eastern Reflects—is orga­nized by Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and the Office of Stu­dent Affairs and is hosted by Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Michael Dukakis in con­junc­tion with the PCID.

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun announced the for­ma­tion of the pres­i­den­tial council ear­lier in the month in a speech on diver­sity and inclu­sion. Monday’s event, “Under­standing Hate,” fea­tured a quartet of pan­elists com­prising Jack Levin, the Irving and Betty Brud­nick Pro­fessor of Soci­ology and Crim­i­nology; Jack McDe­vitt, the asso­ciate dean of research in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ence and Human­i­ties and the director of the Insti­tute on Race and Jus­tice; Richard O’Bryant, the director of the John D. O’Bryant African Amer­ican Insti­tute; and Gor­dana Rabren­ovic, asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and director of the Brud­nick Center on Vio­lence and Con­flict.

Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs, wel­comed to the event some 300 stu­dents who filled 20 West Vil­lage F. “It is our priv­i­lege to be an oasis of view­points and pro­vide an envi­ron­ment where a healthy exchange of ideals and ideas takes place,” he told them.

Dukakis, whom Director char­ac­ter­ized as the “per­fect person to guide our dis­cus­sion on civility,” agreed with the provost. “Campus,” he said, “should serve as the model for what we want to see in society.”

The col­lege campus is per­haps sur­pris­ingly the third most pop­ular venue for a hate crime, according to McDe­vitt, trailing only the home and the street. The majority of offenders, he said, are young adults who find enjoy­ment in hurting others because of their differences.

“Anyone in this room could be a victim of a hate crime,” he said. “[Per­pe­tra­tors] think no one will care what they do,” he added, “but events like this are impor­tant because it shows that we do care.”

Rabren­ovic stressed the impor­tance of responding to a hate crime by gath­ering the facts and dis­sem­i­nating the find­ings in a timely and orderly manner in order to pre­vent fur­ther escalation.

“Trust is a key part of civic society and it is con­tin­u­ally tested,” she said. “We need to be able to depend on each other,” she added. “Coop­er­a­tion, not com­pe­ti­tion, is key.”

Levin agreed with Rabren­ovic, noting that empathy is “one of the most impor­tant human char­ac­ter­is­tics.” But he expressed dismay that the majority of people don’t empathize with those suf­fering from unfa­miliar problems.

He gave an example, explaining that late actor Christo­pher Reeve ofSuperman fame only took up the cause of curing spinal cord injury after a horse riding acci­dent left him paralyzed.

Levin praised Reeve’s work, but noted that “it illus­trates that people can’t see beyond their own prob­lems. We need to increase the breath of empathy toward people we have never met.”

O’Bryant, for his part, focused on the per­sis­tent issue of race on the col­lege campus. He explained that cam­puses have faced a racial divide since the 1968 assas­si­na­tion of Martin Luther King Jr., citing a self-​​report study that found that racial seg­re­ga­tion still exists among col­lege stu­dents across the country.

“The ques­tion is: What are we going to do about it?” he said, noting that he often sees stu­dents on campus clus­tered in racially homoge­nous groups. “Will we take charge? Will we be honest with each other? Will we be willing to answer the dif­fi­cult questions?”

After the series of lec­tures, fac­ulty answered ques­tions posed by stu­dents in the audi­ence. One stu­dent, who described him­self as a Turkish-​​Armenian, asked Levin to explain the media’s role in per­pet­u­ating prejudice.

Many tele­vi­sion shows often rely on stereo­types, Levin said, which get passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. “We learn prej­u­dices from an early age around the dinner table and when we’re older, we learn them from our friends and the TV.”

The series con­tinues this semester with “I am North­eastern: NUStu­dents Build Com­mu­nity and Peace” on March 20 and the annual North­eastern Holo­caust Com­mem­o­ra­tion on April 8.