Northeastern Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID) is a coalition of students that works to shift Northeastern’s current policies so that diversity, inclusion, and integration are both earnestly acknowledged and embraced within the Northeastern community. SAID creates campaigns around specific issues, in order to continuously build toward that goal. Current campaign topics include gentrification and University Health and Counseling Services reform. In the coming weeks, SAID will be considering how to further respond to the Northeastern 2025 Academic Plan.
On Monday, October 3rd, Northeastern released its Northeastern 2025 Academic Plan. The plan is meant to serve as a symbol of and a blueprint for our university’s continuing progress, as we build off of a decade that’s seen Northeastern rise in the collegiate ranks.
But to many students on campus, Northeastern 2025 represents a renewed promise for more of the same. Over the past year, SAID, along with a number of other student groups, has built upon the work done by students who came before us. We continue to push the Northeastern community to recognize its flaws and earnestly work to ensure that students of various identities receive the support necessary to thrive throughout (and beyond) their time here on campus.
To many students, Northeastern 2025 is eerily familiar. It’s a reminder of why we choose to engage in this work. Much of the thirteen-page document discusses “diversity and inclusion;” these terms are evoked dozens of times, in various contexts, throughout the academic plan. SAID has met with some Northeastern administrators on a few occasions over the previous twelve months, and while we recognize the adoption of our language in the academic plan, it’s a challenge to find a single section of Northeastern 2025 that critically engages with the ideas that give that language real meaning.
We have to ask: who is the intended audience of Northeastern 2025’s diversity proposals? Because students of marginalized identities already understand the importance of “diversity and inclusion.” For us, they’re more than just buzzwords – they are the ethos that solidify our place on this campus. So while, yes, a diverse and inclusive Northeastern is a better Northeastern, this discussion can’t be reduced to simply “harnessing the power of diversity and inclusion,” or “creating a diverse, inclusive ecosystem of entrepreneurial leaders.” This discussion, and ensuing actions, must prove to us that we belong, that we’re supported, and that we’re wanted at this university. They should be approached with corresponding sincerity.
On certain topics, Northeastern 2025 is a clear blueprint for the future that identifies tangible, forward-thinking actions that Northeastern will take in the coming decade, such as:
- [Establishing] the Center for Advancing Research and Scholarship, which will enable researchers and entrepreneurs everywhere to find and work with each other. It will offer multi-level training in team building and support, research development and promotion, and internal funding opportunities to all researchers, including undergraduate students. The center will also provide training for specialized expertise (e.g., statistical analysis, data visualization, scientific editing) that elevates the value and impact of research publications.
- [Expanding] the university’s capacity for breakthrough innovation through flexible and nontraditional faculty appointments and engagement, including:
- faculty appointments split across academic institutions
- faculty embedded in targeted industry positions to help accelerate real-world impact
- ‘exchange’ opportunities arising from collaboration with departments at other universities. The university will develop and deploy a range of such appointments in order to leverage talent in research, pedagogy, service, and community engagement as widely as possible. By 2025, the university will have a well-coordinated strategic plan for global research that encourages partnerships across countries.
- [Establishing] the Research Institute for Experiential Learning Sciences to achieve a clearer understanding of how and why experiential learning works and how it can be made more powerful.
However, in blueprinting the future of “diversity and inclusion” at Northeastern, the university’s vague, surface-level engagement with these issues falls well short of the acceptable standard of process development for an institution of academic rigor:
- Northeastern 2025 will integrate students, alumni, employers, teachers, and researchers into evolving global networks for lifelong learning and discovery.
- We will create a diverse and inclusive culture, with accountability at all levels for developing solutions that advance diversity and inclusion goals.
- Higher education’s traditional roles and trajectories will be increasingly open to the world outside our walls. This will make our networks for knowledge sharing, professional development, and cross-cultural education and discovery more diverse in every way.
- The university will leverage its network of campuses to provide skills-focused, variable-term experiences that give learners insight into how culture affects professional practice.
- Northeastern will instill [cultural agility, diversity, and inclusiveness] through the integration of immersive global experiences.
- Northeastern will invest in recruiting and retaining students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups.
- We will serve as a national model for community engagement in the neighborhoods surrounding our campuses.
- Increased, ongoing campus-based dialogue and reflection around what our culturally diverse student body has learned and shared—a community- and agility-building experience in itself.
- Eliminate barriers to cross-cultural understanding in research and scholarship as well as learning. We will ensure that the solutions needed to make communities sustainable are informed by a deep cultural understanding of those communities.
- Northeastern will devote resources to ensuring that its faculty and student body closely reflect the diversity of society.
While the language here is promising, the promise itself is unclear. So, here is what we ask Northeastern do (in collaboration with us) to ensure that “diversity and inclusion” does not become empty rhetoric:
- Explicitly define diversity and inclusion. Simply, what it does and doesn’t it look like.
- Identify Northeastern’s existing flaws. To engage critically with these issues, we don’t need fluff. For example, to advertise Northeastern’s community engagement programming as a powerful learning opportunity that teaches the importance of diversity and inclusion without any mention of existing tensions between the university and community members in surrounding neighborhoods is intellectually dishonest. Recognizing necessary areas of improvement should be a mandatory step in future planning.
- Create concrete goals that extend beyond conceptual promises – e.g. How will we know when we’ve succeeded in diversifying our student body, faculty, and staff? What are the metrics we’ll use to hold ourselves accountable to reaching the goals we lay out?
- Outline specific actions that will be taken to meet those goals – e.g. What resources will be invested in recruiting and retaining people of diverse backgrounds, and how will they be invested?
Northeastern’s decade-long ascension in the national college rankings hasn’t happened by accident – it’s a product of a deliberate and thorough strategy that was meticulously implemented. In order to truly become a leader in “diversity and inclusion,” Northeastern must commit to a similarly exhaustive process. Until then, on that front, Northeastern 2025 will serve more as marketing material than as a blueprint.
If you’re interested in organizing additional responses to Northeastern 2025, please don’t hesitate to reach out to SAID at firstname.lastname@example.org.