Boston Mayor Michelle Wu asks Northeastern students to tackle urban problems, help mentor city youth

mayor michelle wu sitting with other people
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern students are no strangers to solving real-world problems while completing their studies. 

So when Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun asked Boston Mayor Michelle Wu during her visit to the Boston campus on Thursday what she and her administration needed from the community, the city’s mayor had some direct requests. 

“He asked what we needed at the city of Boston and my requests were to really deploy the full power of the student body here,” Wu, who is on the brink of marking one year in office, told a group of Northeastern students. “We have research questions and policy issues that we would love for you—either through a class or getting involved in an internship—to help us think through.”

Aoun, in turn, told Wu to provide him with a list. The pair met for a closed-door conversation before Wu met with students on the sixth floor of the Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex in an open forum facilitated by Northeastern’s city and community engagement team.

“We also really need mentors and volunteers in our schools, our Boston Public Schools, in organizations throughout the city … especially our K-12-age students, coming back from the pandemic, so much disruption for multiple years, not getting the chance to be in-person with everyone—it really shows how much stress and trauma is on everyone’s minds,” Wu said. “And being able to have more brilliant role models to look up to and be involved with, that makes a big difference.” 

The select group of students went around and shared their thoughts about the city many grew up in—including the ways they want to see it improved.

“I love the culture differences in Boston; you can truly learn about anyone, any culture, any place,” said Damian Lee, a fifth-year political science and economics major. “In terms of improvement, I think affordability for low-income college students is a pretty big issue here.”

Common themes brought up during the discussion included the desire to see more affordable housing, the city’s affordability more broadly, and how to better support underserved communities.

“One thing I like about Boston is the enhanced mobility. Both public transportation and the walkable neighborhoods are really a joy to live in,” said Robert Harrison Voigt, a third-year political science and economics major. “It’s interesting, it is a college town—and I grew up in a college town—but culturally it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes it feels like the city … is catering to young professionals and industry more than the population, which is a lot of working class folks and college students.”

Students also had the opportunity to ask Wu questions about a variety of topics—many related to her Green New Deal agenda. 

“I know that your platform has really been about a green Boston,” Amara Ifeji, a third-year political science and environmental studies major, said. “I know you also have a plan around Boston schools and youth, so I’m wondering how that plan is directly in line with your Green New Deal plan. Any particular plans around revitalizing school grounds or green job opportunities for youth? I’d love to learn more about that.”

Growing up in an immigrant family, Wu said she “felt invisible and excluded from a lot of spaces.” 

“We are really in the midst of really embracing our full identity and the full richness of our stories,” Wu said. “In this moment, I’m really just inspired every day that, no matter what is happening in the country and the world, in Boston, we’re really showing how much is possible.” 

Wu added that “those feelings of who belongs, who has access and how our systems can really see and hear everyone are at the heart of everything that our administration is working on.”

“Today was a great opportunity for President Aoun and some of our students to engage in meaningful conversation, as Northeastern continues to look at ways that it can continue to be a great partner to the city of Boston,” said John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community engagement. 

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