Dear students, faculty, and staff colleagues,

To understand the world, sometimes we need to look inside ourselves.  Recently, I experienced this when I took a DNA test to explore my genetic ancestry.  I discovered that my lineage, like that of all humans, is one of splendid variety, in my case tracing back to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.  I learned that the fabric of my being contained a multitude of diverse strands I wasn’t even aware of.  It revealed an important truth: that diversity is not only something that exists between people, but within each of us.

From this perspective, then, it’s vital that we pause to contemplate the role of diversity in our lives and communities.  This includes grappling with the important and challenging questions now being asked at universities around the country.

Northeastern is a community dedicated to the ideal of a global fellowship of learning.  I personally believe that this fellowship flowers most radiantly when it is rooted in different viewpoints and approaches to the world.  Indeed, learning and diversity are indivisible from each other.

These lessons do not always come easily.  Growing up in a war-torn country, I witnessed the spark of diversity’s friction and the tragedy that ensues when, instead of being used as a source of illumination, it is used to fan the flames of conflict.  But when we engage it with open hearts and open minds, diversity makes possible the prospect of peace, harmony, and mutual enrichment.

That is why I believe so strongly, as we all do, in Northeastern’s mission to engage with the world.  Only as a diverse community—grounded in an appreciation of difference as a source of strength, not weakness—can we conquer the challenges that often divide our society.

As we embark on the creation of a new Academic Plan that will chart our future for years to come, it is an opportune time to think boldly about new goals to promote diversity at Northeastern.  Diversity and inclusion must be a strong and prominent focus of this new Academic Plan, so we have decided to create a diversity and inclusion working group to assure that we address these themes in a deep, meaningful way.  We are in a unique position to do this on account of our experiential model, since our students not only experience diversity on campus, but also diversity through engagement in the world—wherever they are.  As detailed below, I am also inviting every member of our community to contribute ideas and actions to advance diversity even further across four key areas: student life, faculty recruitment, staff development, and community engagement.

Building on the Foundation We’ve Laid
Three years ago, the Northeastern community faced discord over religious and political beliefs, leading some to question our commitment to diversity.  We answered those doubts with a public affirmation never to abide discrimination or the diminishment of others, and to use our diversity not as a source of conflict, but as a wellspring of strength.

To make Northeastern an even stronger model for society, we convened a Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion, as well as a Social Impact Council.  We launched a Civility Series to spur education on issues of justice and inclusion.  Our Interfaith Council created new avenues for dialogue and understanding between members of all religious persuasions.  Each of these groups has advanced mutual respect, pluralism, inclusion, and solidarity across the Northeastern community.

Yet while we have worked toward greater illumination, we must shine even more light today.  As we have in the past, we will do so as a united community of students, faculty colleagues, and staff, in partnership with our neighbors in Boston and in all the locations we serve.

Diverse Education and a Diverse Student Body
To engage fully with the world, we must engage with the breadth of human experience.   A diverse community is therefore essential to imparting a deep, well-rounded experiential education.  To support this, we have worked with our neighbors in Boston to increase the pipeline of students entering college through our Youth Development Initiative Project, introducing middle school and high school students to the university environment early.  We’ve also established scholarship funds to support our Torch Scholars program, which recruits first-generation students to Northeastern, and the Ujima Global Leaders program, which serves the goal of inclusion in helping students from underrepresented groups rise to leadership in an increasingly diverse and complex world.  These programs are all distinctive in that they build student diversity while transforming lives through the power of experiential learning.

We provide financial aid covering 100 percent of need for all enrolling students, and commit nearly $240 million in institutional grant aid to our students annually.  To ensure equality of opportunity and successful outcomes, we’ve built nationally recognized programs such as Foundation Year, which has helped hundreds of Boston Public School students gain access to higher education and succeed at it.  All these initiatives are strengthened through an emphasis on experiential learning designed for deliberate outcomes and true inclusion—highlighted by the development of intercultural competencies through our cultural centers.

To build on these successes, we invite your ideas to:

  • Build out our Lowell Institute School, which will provide STEM education to underrepresented minorities, among others.
  • Increase diversity-focused scholarship funding, including need-based Presidential Scholarships to place more underrepresented students in global co-ops.
  • Create a new initiative to recruit students from underrepresented communities and urban centers.
  • Maximize our cultural centers’ efforts to offer experiential opportunities that promote inclusion.
  • Further integrate diversity education throughout the student experience.

Advancing Academic Excellence Through Faculty Diversity
A diverse faculty is essential to realizing our mission of education and scholarship grounded in the world.  As we continue to recruit faculty members from underrepresented groups, we will plumb deeper in the existing talent pool and expand the talent pipeline.  Because we place a premium on the power of experience in educating our students, we’ll look to industry, government, and the non-profit sector for diverse faculty members.As we know well, the best recruiters of faculty are faculty themselves.  Thus, we hope every college, school, department and faculty colleague will engage actively in recruiting for diversity and creating the next phase of faculty diversity initiatives at Northeastern.

We invite your participation in:

  • Enhancing our Future Faculty programs, which introduce diverse postdoctoral and graduate students to employment pathways at Northeastern, and connect potential hires with Northeastern faculty mentors.
  • Launching an initiative focused on diversity to hire experienced professionals from outside of academia as Professors of Practice.
  • Developing a faculty pipeline initiative with schools adept at graduating a diverse graduate population, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
  • Grooming the next generation of faculty for top administrative roles through our Research Leadership Development Initiative.
  • Creating an incentive pool to incentivize and reward faculty diversity initiatives.
  • Joining the Academic Plan working group to develop long-range initiatives to increase hiring of diverse faculty.

Increasing Diversity in Our Staff Ranks
Northeastern’s dedicated staff members are integral to our students’ educational experience, so it’s vital that we maintain a diverse staff committed to the creation of an inclusive campus environment.  Our staff represents Northeastern in the communities we serve and in the world; thus, our staff corps should meaningfully reflect its composition.  One of the primary ways we cultivate staff diversity is by recruiting in local neighborhoods through outreach and networking programs.  We have launched several campaigns to recruit diverse talent as part of the Community Engagement project.  We also engage and support the professional development of minority staff members through the NU Dream initiative.Looking ahead, we ask for your input in:

  • Expanding recruitment and job preparation initiatives with our Community Engagement project.
  • Broadening the NU Dream initiative to reach even more staff members with diverse backgrounds.
  • Providing new online and in-person training for hiring managers on sourcing, recruitment, and hiring with a focus on expanding the pipeline for diversity.
  • Aligning our two new pilot talent development initiatives to focus on increasing diversity across all professional ranks.
  • Identifying high potential underrepresented staff to be sponsored for Leadership, Management, and Supervisory Training programs.

Connecting with Diversity in Boston and Beyond
Northeastern is a global university rooted in the strong foundations of the communities from which it has grown.  Acknowledging this, we launched Northeastern Crossing, a portal that connects the communities around our Boston campus to the university.  We have maintained a substantial financial commitment to our Boston neighbors through our Community Engagement program.  We also understand that many of our students’ most powerful service learning opportunities are found in our surrounding neighborhoods, where working in diverse teams reinforces the power of inclusion to solve our problems.  They learn experientially about the indelible links that connect us all.

To strengthen our ties with our neighboring communities further, we invite your ideas to:

  • Assure that community workers and contractors are appropriately represented as we launch further capital projects and secure retail vendors for signature buildings such as the Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex.
  • Cultivate further opportunities for community engagement through our many existing community service programs, service days, and youth education initiatives.
  • Develop innovative and impactful community-based programming through Northeastern Crossing.
  • Create programs to connect local, diverse-owned businesses with resources and skills to grow and work more successfully with Northeastern.

Many Voices, One Northeastern
Working together, we’ve already made considerable strides toward advancing diversity and inclusion at Northeastern.  Our next steps will be even more ambitious.  To succeed, we’ll need to continue harnessing the power of our community through mutual engagement.

I call on all of us to provide our best ideas and leadership to advance diversity further in the four key areas discussed above.  Provost Jim Bean will be the main point of contact for communicating your thoughts and proposals; I encourage you to reach out to him directly at to help us advance this important work.  There are so many ways you can contribute—for example, through your colleges and departments, through student and community organizations—and, importantly, through our efforts to develop the university’s new Academic Plan, which will continue throughout this semester.

Northeastern was founded on the belief that the most powerful learning stems from experiencing the world and all its variation—that we cultivate our intellects and characters from the rich diversity of life, not sterile uniformity.  Honoring diversity strengthens us as learners, colleagues, and citizens of the world.  It honors the very essence of who we are as a university.

On this common ground, may we—the beautifully diverse individuals who together form the gorgeous mosaic of Northeastern—always stand as one.


Joseph E. Aoun