To all members of the Northeastern community,

For the past several months, a lethal pandemic has tested every level of society. Families everywhere have faced the loss of loved ones and the distress of financial insecurity. The institutions that shape our lives, including colleges and universities, have suspended normal operations.

But the closure of our campuses does not mean the closure of our minds. And we can never close our hearts. While COVID-19 has required us to be apart, opposing inequality and working for social unity require us to join together.

Racism, hatred, and ignorance—these are the scourges of a different kind of virus. To halt its spread, it is our obligation to work every day to embrace diversity, inclusion, and harmony. It is our mission to pursue knowledge through love, progress through compassion.

As many of you know, I grew up in a land that was torn apart by sectarian violence. Witnessing the corrosive effects of hatred instilled in me a set of core values—that all people must be treated justly and equally. Growing up, America was always a shining beacon for these ideals. Sadly, as current events have reminded us, there is much work left to be done. Consider for a moment that the leading cause of death among young African American men is homicide. This is both incredible and unacceptable.

COVID-19 does not recognize skin color, but it has exacerbated the inequality and racism that afflict our society. Communities of color are suffering in profound ways. The virus has hit them hardest; the economic collapse has impacted them disproportionately; and the ugliness of persistent racism has marginalized them systematically.

In the words of Dr. King: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” As a community dedicated to learning and enlightenment, it is our duty to combine intelligence with character. It is our duty to ask: What will we do to make the world better?

Let us begin today, right now, to mend the torn fabric of society. As we move to reopen our campuses, our core values of inclusion, equality and harmony will be our guiding lights. Our mission of discovery to make the planet healthier, safer, and sustainable has never been more urgent. The world has never seen a greater need for learning to lift millions of people from despair. We cannot achieve these goals if we are divided against one another.

Together, let us take up the work of healing. Let us use our voices not just to call for a better society, but to create one.


Joseph E. Aoun