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Dean’s Newsletter: Winter 2020

Dear members of the CSSH community, faculty, staff, students, and friends,

As this challenging fall semester, unique in Northeastern and world history, comes to a close, I write to wish you a restorative winter break. I hope you will take a few moments to reflect on the many ways in which students, faculty, and staff – through our shared resilience and commitment – continue to push forward our Experiential Liberal Arts mission. Despite the local and global hardships created by the pandemic, we have many accomplishments to celebrate as we look forward to a vaccine and a brighter 2021.

Racial Literacy and Our Work on Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism

Faculty, staff and students around the college have collaborated throughout this fall semester to address the legacies and impact of systemic racism. This semester, the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion, chaired by Dean of the Law School James Hackney and me, presented Racial Literacy, a panel series for the university community and pop-up course for undergraduates. In the public presentations, colleagues from across the university reflected on topics ranging from red-lining in Boston, to understanding cultural resistance, to policing and restorative justice. Instructors and facilitators guided students in the pop-up in asking difficult questions and conducting meaningful reflections toward self-exploration and anti-racist affect, thoughts, behaviors, and actions.

“Lynching: Reparations as Restorative Justice”, a daylong conference hosted by Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project in the School of Law and the Africana Studies Program, brought together family members of lynching victims with African American leaders including author Ta-Nehisi Coates, activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis, artists Dread Scott and Quanda Johnson, economist William Darity, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, and others. More than a thousand attendees witnessed in-depth conversations facilitated by Margaret Burnham, Nicole Aljoe, Ángel Nieves and others about the much needed, multi-faceted work of coming to terms with the entrenched trauma of race-based violence.

As a community-academic collaborative response to the ongoing social injustices, and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, the Northeastern University Public Evaluation Lab (NU-PEL) and the Greater Boston Evaluation Network (GBEN) have partnered to create a virtual, year-long professional development and training series, focusing on Culturally Responsive Evaluation (CRE). The inaugural event took place on November 16, 2020.  

Faculty and students throughout the college have worked intensively to evaluate how the curricula of all the college’s programs feature questions racism, anti-racism, and the intersections of race with other social categories such as gender, class, or sexuality. Faculty, staff, and students also participated in Northeastern’s First Gen Week, sponsored by the Center for Intercultural Engagement (CIE), which is part of the FUNL Network. We are proud that CIE has recognized students James J. Lyons IV (Political Science ’21) for Social Justice Advocacy and Gisselle Rodriguez Benitez (Economics ’21) for First-Gen Legacy Building. 

We are also very pleased to proceed with several faculty searches that will augment our expertise in questions of race and justice. You can see a brief summary of college-level work on diversity, inclusion and anti-racism here, and in the new year, we look forward to featuring program-level efforts in greater detail as well. Our college and university community will also have the opportunity to incorporate these questions throughout Northeastern’s strategic planning process recently announced by Provost Madigan, and I encourage all of us to make our voices heard.

Engaging the Public

Since I last wrote, CSSH faculty have continued to engage publicly with questions that the pandemic raises as well as other important social challenges. On the lighter side, one recent example is Ryan Cordell’s video covering Dolly Parton’s classic hit “Jolene” with new lyrics from linguistics scholar Gretchen McCulloch about the COVID-19 vaccine. As news of Dolly Parton’s gift in support of a COVID-19 vaccine was shared across the internet, his rendition went viral on Twitter and appeared in the Boston Globe and New York Times.

Elsewhere in media, Shalanda Baker was interviewed by WBUR about differing energy and environmental policies of the presidential candidates, including what we can expect from the incoming Biden administration. David Lazer has been busy analyzing misinformation in relation to both the pandemic and the election.  You can see many more examples of our colleagues’ public engagement here.

The Humanities Center and the Ethics Institute recently launched the Pandemic Teaching Initiative, a library of publicly accessible educational modules that explore the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The modules, created by CSSH faculty members contain the equivalent of a week’s content for an academic course. They explore topics related to the pandemic in fields ranging from economics and political science to literature and philosophy. All modules are freely available on this site and in Canvas.

Upcoming Events

Once again this spring, our faculty are convening virtual conferences and events addressing significant issues of our time. During Northeastern’s Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week, starting April 5, the organizing committee presents a number of events commemorating the Holocaust and other genocides. The 28th Robert Salomon Morton Lecture will feature writer, historian, and Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago David Nirenberg addressing the question: Does the history of anti-Semitism tell us anything about its future?  

The Myra Kraft Open Classroom  returns this spring with “Post-Pandemic Design: Creating Equitable, Healthy and Resilient Places,” to explore the role of urban design and development in confronting issues such as COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and destructive fires and hurricanes. The “Race, Policing and the Community” Dialogue Series from the Institute on Race and Justice and its Community Advisory Board will also continue this spring. The next event will on February 23  and is centered on race and youth police partnerships.

In a partnership between MIT, where she is currently an MLK Visiting Scholar, and CSSH, Moya Bailey is leading the Black Feminist Health Science Studies Symposium on March 18.

You can find many more CSSH events planned for spring here.

Research Updates

During the pandemic, our faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students have continued to engage in many important research projects and have received many highly competitive grants. I am delighted to share a few of the recent awards:

  • Recolonizing Security: An Anthropology of the War on Terror in Kenya (Zoltan Gluck, Anthropology and International Affairs; a fellowship funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation)
  • Towards a Digital Health Humanities Curriculum: Tools and Strategies (Sari Altschuler, English, and Co-PI Chris Parsons, History; funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities)
  • Impact of Organizational Stressors on Health and Wellness: A Longitudinal Study of Occupational Stress, Trauma Exposure, Psychological Distress, and Suicide Risk Among Correction Officers (Natasha Frost, Criminology and Criminal Justice; funded by the National Institute of Justice)

You can view more recent grants and awards in our Endnotes.

We have much to celebrate in CSSH as we need to continue to be patient, creative, and compassionate during this difficult time. I thank each of you for your incredibly hard work and long hours in virtual and physically distanced modes. I hope that you are able to take a real break, and return inspired to tackle challenges, effect change, and move CSSH and the Experiential Liberal Arts forward in the new year!


Uta Poiger
Dean, College of Social Sciences and Humanities

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