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Dean’s Newsletter: Spring 2021

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of CSSH: At the end of every academic year, we celebrate the accomplishments of the students, faculty, and staff who exemplify our Experiential Liberal Arts mission.

I want to thank all of you for your resilience and creativity during the hardship of this pandemic year and for the work you did remotely in Massachusetts, around the globe, and on Northeastern’s campuses. Perhaps you will enjoy this video of some of our voices from the past fifteen months. There is so much to be proud of in the achievements of our community.

Five student speakers represented our work in CSSH and the Class of 2021 powerfully at our virtual CSSH commencement celebration and at Fenway Park. Please view their remarks below:

Our commencement speaker, University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities Patricia Williams, members of the Dean’s Strategy Council, CSSH singers Morgan Headden and Jessica Garcia, and CSSH poet Chinma Nnadozie-Okananwa all made our virtual commencement celebration on Facebook Live (view the recording here) a truly special mix of reflection and joy. 

Our alumni and graduates have again won numerous awards. International affairs alumna Stephanie Beja `19 is the latest CSSH recipient of the prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship. The fellowship prepares young people for careers in the Foreign Service during a master`s program. Anneke Gustafson, Sociology `21, is one of eight winners of Northeastern’s Compass Award, which recognizes students for demonstrating true commitment to leadership, volunteerism, and academic integrity during their time on campus. For her work in interdisciplinary research, Folashade Adewunmi, Criminal Justice `21, is this year’s winner of the Dr. Ruth E. Sullivan Memorial Award. Cara Messina, English PhD `21, won Northeastern’s Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Humanics. Please read more about our long list of student accomplishments in this issue’s Endnotes.

Two Pandemics

Overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic has been the important reckoning with questions of social justice and the pandemic of racial inequality. Our community has done important work here, from reforming curricula to providing opportunities for dialogue on difficult questions. We recognize that this work demands consistent attention. You can find preliminary reports from the college and our units here.

Racial Literacy, an ongoing series under the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion, focused on honest dialogue about race and racism, continued this spring with a new public event and pop-up course that drew Northeastern staff and students. The event, entitled Racial Literacy: Students Reflect, gathered students from the fall semester pop-up to share what they learned and to articulate ongoing challenges. The spring semester also saw two events in the Civility Series. “White Supremacy, Insurrection, and U.S. Democracy” examined the January 6 Capitol riot, the deeper ideological forces behind it, as well as its aftermath, including effects on the presidential transition and reactions in law enforcement and governance. CSSH panelists included Patricia Williams (University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities), Costas Panagopoulos (Professor of Political Science), and Rod K. Brunson (Director of Graduate Mentoring and Diversity Initiatives, CSSH). “Anti-Asian Racism” explored the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, the deeper histories and ideological forces behind this rise, as well as steps to address such racism. Serena Parekh (Associate Professor of Philosophy) moderated and Philip Thai (Associate Professor of History) was a featured panelist. More recently, Nicole Aljoe (Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies) moderated a discussion of the verdict in the Chauvin trial that featured Rod Brunson, Margaret Burnham, CJ doctoral student Ayanna Miller, and others. With support from CSSH and MIT, Moya Bailey (Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and Women`s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) organized a conversation about Black feminist approaches to health that drew a large online audience. You can find many examples of how members of the CSSH community contribute to public conversations on anti-racism and culture and other topics on our website.

Fantastic Faculty Accomplishments

CSSH faculty continue to win many important awards and honors. Once again, we have collected faculty accomplishments in one place, including published books, major articles, and fellowships and awards. There are many achievements to celebrate, including significant research grants. For example, Shalanda Baker (Professor of Law, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs; now serving in the Biden administration) and Subin DeVar (JD `19) received funding from the Barr Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation for their Initiative for Energy Justice. Ellen Cushman (Dean`s Professor of Civic Sustainability and English) has won a grant from the Luce Foundation to support her multi-generational research team that works with tribal communities to collaboratively translate, teach and learn, with historical texts written in Cherokee and eventually other native languages.

Several faculty won National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to study a variety of subjects, from “Navigating Mainstream Institutions and Non-Traditional Alternatives Post-Incarceration” (Megan Denver) and “Coronavirus and Urban Neighborhoods: Infection Transmission in an Inequitable, Networked Social Context” (Dan O`Brien) to “Financial Network Disruptions in Illicit and Counterfeit Medicines (FIND-M)” (Nikos Passas) and “Accelerating the Future of Work? Understanding Future Shifts in Technology Adoption in the Seafood Industry in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” (Alicia Sasser Modestino). Twenty CSSH faculty are involved in collaborative grants funded this spring by the Provost`s Office Tier 1 Seed Grant Program. The funding will support projects aimed at visualizing spatial violence; predicting and managing ecosystem dynamics under climate change; supporting fair congressional districting; and understanding processes and impacts of organizational re-entry during COVID.

In March Daniel Aldrich (Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs) gave the university`s Klein lecture on “The Critical Role of Social Ties in Disasters and Shocks.” Rod Brunson (Thomas P. O`Neill, Jr. Chair of Public Life in Criminology and Political Science) serves on the Committee on Law and Justice for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, while Thomas Vicino (Associate Dean of Graduate Studies; Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs) was re-elected for a second year as president of the Urban Affairs Association.

Three colleagues were awarded interdisciplinary sabbaticals from the university. Nicole Aljoe (Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies) will work with colleagues at NCH in London to develop a digital humanities project: Using Digital Literary Analysis to Re-Imagine 18th century Black Lives in London. Dan O`Brien (Associate Professor of Public Policy and Criminal Justice and Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative) will collaborate with colleagues in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) to better understand microspatial inequalities using sensor networks to evidence the story of Boston area environmental hazards. Louise Walker (Associate Professor of History) will join colleagues in the Center for Emerging Markets in the D`Amore-McKim School of Business to gain background in comparative emerging economies to enrich her book project about banking history and economic justice in Mexico. Hua Dong (Senior Academic Specialist in the World Languages Center) won a competitive faculty fellowship for full-time teaching faculty to integrate language teaching into different disciplines across the university, in collaboration with international students. 

Big Crowds, Small Screens: Our Virtual Events

CSSH`s 7th annual Undergraduate Research Forum (URF) featured the research of 15 students. The first day included projects that addressed climate migration, congressional bipartisanship, and the future of the European repo market. Day two included research on voter suppression and climate justice, navigating relationships during COVID-19, and the representation of women of color. Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week returned with a full slate of virtual programming this spring, including the Philip N. Backstrom Jr. Survivor Lecture with Esther Adler, a Holocaust survivor, who became a teacher and writer.

I have been proud to see the many ways in which our faculty, students and staff have sustained and built intellectual and social communities this past year. We have announced the winners of outstanding teaching and staff awards, and we are about to announce a new master`s program on Applied Quantitative Methods and Social Analysis led by Greg Zimmerman (Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice).

Please get your vaccine as soon as you can, and please remember to submit good news as well as events that are open to others to our weekly news and events newsletter here. I hope you will take some time to recharge this summer.

Congratulations to all of us in CSSH on a successful year. To our graduates, best wishes on your future endeavors, and please stay in touch with your college!

With best wishes,

Uta Poiger
Dean, College of Social Sciences and Humanities

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