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Nine Massachusetts colleges and universities to host series on tackling difficult issues, modeling constructive dialogue

Silhouette of people sitting at an event.
Nine Massachusetts colleges and universities host series to promote dialogue, understanding, civility and tolerance. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Nine Massachusetts colleges and universities are launching a first-of-its-kind educational series with the goal of deepening the understanding of different points of view in a time of global conflicts.

Initiated by the presidents and organized by the provosts of Northeastern, Harvard, MIT, UMass, Brandeis, Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, and Wellesley, the Dialogue and Action in an Age of Divides series will feature panel discussions with faculty experts from each school and focus on modeling constructive dialogue around difficult issues.

“At this moment in the world, we desperately need dialogue and understanding and civility and tolerance,” says David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern. “It is the role of the university to facilitate that and to moderate it for students.”

Caroline Genco, provost and senior vice president of Tufts University, praised the collaborative nature of the series. 

“This series enables us as institutions of higher education to work together to do what we do best — teach and learn through dialogue and foster conversations that enlighten our communities,” Genco says in a statement. “By collaborating across institutions, we can learn from each other and improve how we respond to and support our community during challenging times.” 

The first panel discussion in the series, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29, will explore the significance and limitations of free speech as it relates to anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other identity-based intolerance during controversies, according to the website. Titled, “Hate and Free Speech,” the discussion will take place on Northeastern’s Boston campus and will be livestreamed. Partner institutions may hold live viewing sessions and in-person breakout discussions on their respective campuses. Viewers can also participate in a virtual Q&A with the panelists.

The organizing committee, chaired by James R. Hackney, dean of the Northeastern School of Law, and Uta Poiger, special advisor to the provost on humanics and professor of history at Northeastern, note that the views expressed by the panelists and moderators are their own and are not statements representing the nine sponsoring institutions. 

“We’re featuring world-class experts on the topics we’re discussing,” Madigan says. “I think we will all learn a lot, from hearing different sides of these arguments, discussed in a scholarly way.”

A second event, “Coming Together Across Difference: Finding Common Ground across Identities and Political Divides,” will be held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Future events will be announced.

“This isn’t just one university, it is all the major universities in Boston doing this together,” Madigan says. “This is what universities are about, this is why we are doing this.”