Commentary: From distress should come dialogue

The cover story and editorial in the Nov. 15 issue of The News about a racist incident on campus prompted a tough but important dialogue. As was pointed out by The News, many students and several of my colleagues, the specifics of the incident went undisclosed for some time and raised many questions. I, too, was left wondering what had happened, and only learned the details at the faculty senate meeting held Nov. 15. While many students and staff are troubled by the way communication of this matter was handled, I think, as a community, we can all understand that the confidentiality of the incident was maintained out of respect for one of Northeastern’s most distinguished professors – Leonard Brown.

I know I am one of many feeling incredibly disturbed by this incident, and perplexed by who could have placed the derisive phone call. After all, the students I meet with and see on a daily basis are a reminder of how mature Northeastern students are. Hearing the message left me in disbelief that anyone – certainly not a Northeastern student – could be capable of uttering these entirely unacceptable racist remarks. Please know that no one has alleged that any student was involved in this matter, and we may in fact never know who was responsible. Bringing this incident to light can serve as a reminder to us all that prejudice does exist and that we in academia have a responsibility to address this issue and eliminate discrimination by educating our community. I am proud that several offices and departments on campus are doing just that by sponsoring and organizing programs and courses for our students.

For instance, the Department of Residential Life regularly collaborates with the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action on several programs of this nature. The “Dialogues on Diversity” program provides opportunities for participatory discussion on issues of race, culture and diversity. Its purpose is to bring together those from diverse backgrounds to engage in open discussion, and provide opportunities to share and explore similarities and differences in a safe environment. Malaika Edwards and Donnie Perkins of the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action should be commended for their work in this area.

Then there is “Safe Zones,” a training program coordinated by Residence Directors Victor Postemski and Erin Kennelly, which is conducted at colleges and universities across the country in an effort to educate and train students, faculty and staff on ways to reduce homophobia. The goal is to create a campus community that is welcoming for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff.

Many students may also be aware of the Living Learning Communities within our residence halls, which give students the opportunity to live among fellow students with similar interests. “Multiculturalism in Action” is a Living Learning Community which focuses on issues of differences and diversity. Naomi Thompson of the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action is the advisor to the floor. These joint efforts, supported by Director of Residence Life Bob Jos

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