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Rory Smead: Promoting Interdisciplinary Leadership and Scholarship with Students

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Professor Rory Smead is the Ronald L. and Linda A. Rossetti Professor for the Humanities and serves as the director of the Rossetti Family Program for the Advancement of the Humanities. Professor Smead is also an associate professor of philosophy and religion in Northeastern’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Through his roles, Professor Smead has found opportunities to encourage students of all backgrounds and disciplines to recognize the value of interdisciplinary initiatives and promote the leadership of scholars.

Professor Smead’s research combines traditional philosophical questions with contemporary scientific approaches. A central focus of this research is understanding harmful social tendencies such as spite. One of the ways Professor Smead seeks to unravel the ways in which spite is used and perceived is investigating its role in social norms and institutions. He recognizes that certain behaviors and institutions may be rooted in spite and do not actually accomplish something for the greater good or implement justice in a community. Professor Smead acknowledges the spiteful nature of the criminal justice system with the disproportionate incarceration of millions of African Americans. He also considers the current negative public discourses such as immigrants and refugees finding in- and out-group effects that continue to demonize and ostracize certain communities. 

Professor Smead works to encourage diversity in the communities he represents in order to correct the imbalance of racial and gender representations. Through the Rossetti Family Program, Professor Smead helps to create a lasting engagement with the humanities for students interested in computer science, business, and engineering. As part of this program, he conducts a small group of students and faculty that explore a diverse set of topics outside of the familiarity of their discipline. This group is currently studying the origins of inequality and unfairness within gender and racial social divides. Professor Smead not only encourages members to step outside of their discipline, but he prioritizes creating an inclusive space by promoting real conversations on the uphill battles people of various backgrounds must face, and making sure members represent diversity in background as well as discipline. 

Professor Smead’s teaching philosophy resonates closely with his community work and leadership roles with students and colleagues. Professor Smead wants to teach students “not what to think, but how to think.” Recognizing the role of the student in this robotics age and the need for independent critical thought, Professor Smead says that this is why interdisciplinary exposure is more crucial than ever before. The blending of computer sciences and philosophy in his teaching enlighten new perspectives in students to acknowledge the real value of the humanities. In the modern world, with so much information available at all times, he says, “We have to serve in the role of the critical thinking—we have to filter out information.” At the end of the day, Professor Smead wants students to do the work they are interested in because they will be authentically invested and never bored. 

“Don’t study something because you think it will make you successful. Study it because it is interesting to you. The success usually follows. Study for the thing itself. If you’re always thinking about the next step, it’s hard to think about the current step.” 

By valuing the pursuit of diversity in his teaching, community efforts, leadership, and scholarship, Professor Smead has forged an invaluable connection with CSSH students and faculty. “Everyone benefits when we prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts.” 

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