Diversity and inclusion highlight discussion at academic plan town hall

On Tuesday, Northeastern students, faculty, and staff at the latest academic plan town hall meeting examined and shared ideas around diversity and inclusion, one of the core themes being discussed as part of the planning process.

Tuesday’s meeting was an engaging exercise, with some 80 attendees breaking into groups to discuss several questions around diversity and inclusion that have been posted to the academic plan website. Attendees rotated between tables, allowing them the chance to weigh in on these various questions. Members of the diversity and inclusion working group led the discussions and then presented some of the key ideas and themes that were discussed.

The themes ranged from the importance of having continual dialogue on campus about this topic to deepening ties with the surrounding community.

On the question of how the Northeastern community can foster a more inclusive environment, the word “dialogue” was a regular theme. “Inclusion is not a state of being,” said working group member Robert Jose, associate dean for cultural, residential, and spiritual life. “It’s something that needs to be in practiced and that needs to be reflected on.” He added that participants discussed the need to provide training on how to have these types of difficult conversations and that a goal should be to create a culture in which inclusivity is second nature.

Another question asked what existing programs can be extended or new initiatives created to increase diversity and promote inclusivity on campus. Ideas included creating more special affinity groups for faculty and staff, providing more career development programming for staff, and accommodating single mothers who might be older than the typical college student.

James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, noted that Tuesday’s meeting follows President Joseph E. Aoun’s letter to the Northeastern community on Jan. 11 encouraging students, faculty, and staff to “think boldly about new goals to promote diversity at Northeastern” as the university embarks on creating the next academic plan.

In that letter, Aoun underscored the importance of thinking about and discussing the role of diversity in our lives and communities, and that “learning and diversity are indivisible from each other.” He invited members of the Northeastern community to contribute ideas and solutions to advance diversity even further across four key areas: student life, faculty recruitment, staff development, and community engagement.

Bean said the university is creating a website that outlines and provides updates on the progress of themes mentioned in the president’s letter as well as other topics related to diversity and inclusion that spring from the academic plan discussions.

“We look forward to this dialogue continuing among this group and the wider community,” working group member James Hackney, professor of law and chief of staff and senior strategy advisor in the Office of the President, said to conclude Tuesday’s meeting.

Northeastern has launched an interactive website for the university community to learn more about the process and provide feedback.

The academic plan will guide the university’s course over the next 10 years and will serve as the framework for Northeastern’s next long-range plan, which will map out how the academic plan will be put into action. The plan will take shape over the next year through extensive discussions with students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, donors, and community members. The final plan will be ratified in fall 2016.

Tuesday’s discussion marked the fourth town hall meeting on the academic plan. The next two town hall meetings will be held on Monday, March 14—first a PhD Joint Task Force town hall meeting from 12:30 to 2 p.m., and then another meeting from 5 to 6:30 p.m. focusing on research and scholarship for impact.

Due to the overwhelming demand among Northeastern community members to participate in Tuesday’s meeting on diversity and inclusion, a second town hall meeting on this topic has been scheduled for Friday, March 18, from 12:30 to 2 p.m.