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Dean’s Newsletter: Fall 2020

As we begin the new academic year, I write to extend a warm welcome to new and returning members of our College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH) community. This time of vulnerability and righteous protest calls for engagement, analysis, and creativity.

Together, students, faculty and staff in CSSH are creating and curating knowledge and are addressing deep historical as well as pressing current issues of society, culture, ethics, and policy. I am impressed and encouraged by the many different ways in which faculty, students, and staff are working together to make learning and engagement possible in virtual and physical environments, to ask hard questions of ourselves and society, and to stay safe and connected.

A New Website for CSSH

In our physically distanced world, we are spending more time than ever in online environments. It is perhaps fitting then that we have recently unveiled a newly reimagined web presence for CSSH, its academic units, and its research centers.  At the new CSSH flagship site — — and the new sites for departments, programs, and centers, you can discover more about the people, subjects, and projects at the heart of our college’s work. One new feature that helps highlight the community-engaged and interdisciplinary work in CSSH is Topics. These cross-content tags, ranging from Anti-Racism and Culture, to Environment, Sustainability and Resilience, to Wealth Inequality, to name a few, synthesize work being done across academic units and research centers to address larger societal issues in the spirit of the Experiential Liberal Arts. Topics are organizing concepts for the site, akin to hashtags on social media, where you can find faculty, students, and stories that relate to each other and the subject at hand.

Many visitors to our site are trying to find people: faculty who are teaching in an upcoming semester, students with relevant experiences, or staff members who can help address an issue. For that reason, our new People page allows for filtered searching in order to pinpoint the exact CSSH community member for a visitor’s needs. Similarly, our undergraduate and graduate pathways in the Experiential Liberal Arts have undergone a dramatic transformation. See how with the story of Human Services alumna Akiera Gilbert (’18), who has realized her passion for making social change happen.

Finally, I would like to direct your attention to the Majors, Minors, and Graduate Programs page. It provides an organized and engaging way to explore both our undergraduate and graduate programs. At a glance, you will see all of the degrees within a particular school or department, as well as pop-outs for combined majors. A website, like our work in CSSH, is never done, and we look forward to making further improvements and adding new content to properly portray the exciting and impactful work in education, research, and outreach that the CSSH community is engaged in.

Adapting during COVID-19

With many students joining us on campus this fall, and some students remaining remote, faculty will work with students in Northeastern’s new, hybrid learning model, NUflex. For first-year students looking for a unique remote experience, NUStart is available. In addition to taking specially designed and curated classes, NUStart students will participate in a learning community based on a global challenge theme. Faculty and staff have worked very hard to prepare the fall semester and to welcome our new and returning students. Peer student mentors will help new students get acclimated at Northeastern in physical and virtual spaces, and student leaders are running our many student groups with an emphasis on virtual environments.

We continue to work on engaging our community in Boston and in many locations throughout the country and globe. For example, student research continues apace, with many CSSH students being awarded funding by Northeastern’s PEAK program as well as winning Fulbright awards. See recent winners in our Endnotes.

The Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), directed by Dan O’Brien, recently announced that the COVID in Boston database, along with individual data sets, is now ready to be accessed in full via a guide to using the data, through the Boston Data Portal. The database draws from a variety of administrative and social media sources, contextualized within a broader geographic structure that allows seamless linkage across data sets. It includes both the original records, often with enhanced content, and custom aggregate measures (e.g., neighborhood-level metrics). BARI consultants can support use of this important resource for teaching and research.

This summer, faculty from throughout the college have been contributing to another unique project for our time: The CSSH Pandemic Teaching Initiative. A collaboration between the Northeastern Humanities Center, the Ethics Institute, the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, the initiative will offer a set of publicly accessible lessons and modules that explore topics related to pandemics—their disruptions and impacts—from a range of perspectives. The modules use the radical disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to deepen learning about relevant theories, methodologies, text, and issues, such as: literary representations of contagion; the ethics of triage; refugees, statelessness, and health; scientific misinformation; trauma theory, healing and writing; social and racial inequalities and public policy.

Together, the modules constitute a dynamic, online, open-access library of lessons that are available to the general public. We hope that these modules will be useful to scholars, teachers, and learners of all kinds who want to consider the current crisis from the variety of perspectives offered by the social sciences and humanities. Stay tuned for the unveiling of the initiative’s website and modules later this month.

Faculty Recognitions and Press

Since I last wrote in May, CSSH faculty have continued to earn impressive recognitions, addressing the questions the pandemic raises as well as other important social challenges.

Dan O’Brien received NSF funding for “Coronavirus and Urban Neighborhoods: Infection Transmission in an Inequitable, Networked Social Context”, which will use data from Boston to examine how the interplay between neighborhood contexts and the ability to practice social distancing lead to inequitable rates of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Amy Farrell, along with Shawn Bhimani (DMSB) Kayse Trine Maass (COE), received an NSF grant for “How Supply Chains Break: Coordinated Interdiction for Catastrophic Disruption of Illicit Supply Networks”, which seeks to identify how supply chains within labor trafficking in the agricultural sector fuel exploitation. Through a review of federally prosecuted labor trafficking cases, the team (including student participants from all three colleges) will develop models for more efficient interdiction and supply chain disruption strategies to help identify and disrupt exploitative supply chains. Jennie Stephens, Director of SPPUA, is leading a team, including Laura Kuhl (CSSH) and Ryan Nelson Ellis (CAMD) for another NSF-funded project, “Power in Puerto Rico: Sociotechnical Imaginaries, Infrastructure Publics, and Electricity.”

Ryan Cordell’s report on the state of machine learning in libraries, commissioned by the Library of Congress, was published this summer. You will note that Northeastern’s digital humanities expertise is well reflected, with interviews and scholarship by Dan Cohen, Laura Nelson, David Smith, and Amanda Rust featured.

Our faculty also continue to shape public discourse, well beyond the walls of the classroom. Philip Thai, Associate Professor of History, examines the parallels between the current pandemic and the 1968 “Hong Kong Flu” in an op-ed for the Washington Post. Similarly, Rod Brunson, Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Chair of Public Life and Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Department of Political Science, brings his decades of knowledge and experience to the debate on defunding the police and maintaining public safety in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. There he discusses the delicate balancing act of policing communities that have been underserved or overpoliced, sometimes simultaneously, throughout history. Tiffany Joseph, Associate Professor of Sociology and International Affairs, wrote an op-ed for Newsweek entitled “Trump’s Immigration Policies Are Making the Coronavirus Pandemic Worse,” in which she argues threats of deportation can have dire consequences for immigrant communities.

Upcoming Events

As the fall semester gets underway, and as we combine face to face and remote work in our classrooms, our CSSH events will be virtual. I hope you will join the CSSH community for important conversations. Beginning September 9, the Myra Kraft Open Classroom (MKOC), organized by the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, will return each Wednesday, with dialogues on what COVID-19 means for the future. Speakers and audiences will discuss timely topics such as transformations in values after earlier plagues; public governance; race, equity, educational access; and economics and small business futures. The first session (tonight, 9/9) will feature our colleague and former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science.

The Composite Bodies Series, a partnership between the Northeastern Humanities Center and Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard, will address questions of technology, surveillance, embodiment, race and power through an intersectional feminist lens. The first event on September 16 features Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, in conversation with the series curators Caroline Light, Senior Lecturer on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University, and Patricia Williams, University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities at Northeastern.

Under the auspices of the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion, colleagues from around the university, including a number of CSSH colleagues, will contribute to a series of public events and a one-credit pop-up course on Racial Literacy that begins on September 22. On October 1, Northeastern will host the Falling Walls Lab Boston in partnership with the German Consulate in Boston. Twenty entrepreneurs and academics will portray their groundbreaking project or idea in three-minute presentations to the audience and a distinguished jury. Please find more CSSH events here.

My hope is that with a great sense of responsibility to one another (protect the pack!), attention to the details of keeping each other and our communities safe (face masks, physical distance, no large gatherings), and recognition that individual circumstances differ greatly, we will be able to interact in the combination of virtual and physical environments that Northeastern has built and transformed during the pandemic. We all will need creativity, patience, kindness, and strong channels of communication for learning from one another. I wish all of us a successful year, and I look forward to what we will learn and accomplish together in these challenging times.

With best wishes,

Uta Poiger
Dean, College of Social Sciences and Humanities

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