Deserving the Word: Diversity at Northeastern

Deserving the Word: Diversity at Northeastern // Woof Magazine

Graphics by Kelley Schneider

Diversity [dih-vurs-i-tee]: noun — The state or act of being diverse; of a different kind, form, character, etc; unlikeness.

Used in a sentence — “Diversity at Northeastern University is about more than what you look like or where you come from—it’s about the choices you make, the ideals you uphold, and the dreams you pursue.” This statement comes straight from the Northeastern admissions page, which boasts of the school being a “welcoming community” and part of a “vibrant, wonderful city.”

No one who has spent time on campus can doubt the basic diversity of this school. We welcome students from 122 countries, 77 percent of students come from out of  state and dozens of clubs celebrate different ethnicities, religions, political beliefs and interests. But is that enough to be truly called diverse?

Deserving the Word: Diversity at Northeastern // Woof Magazine“When I hear the word ‘diversity,’ I immediately think of differences,” said Connor Doherty, a middler communication studies major and vice president of NUPRIDE. “A diverse place is one where you hear opinions that may not necessarily be congruent with yours and where you can discover that the way you see the world isn’t the only way to see it.”

Whether Northeastern is one of these places, however, Doherty isn’t so sure. “Many of my friends that go here are from across the country and abroad, and every time I walk across campus I overhear several conversations in different languages. I don’t necessarily think that the school facilitates interactions between these very diverse groups, however,” Doherty said. “I think that students tend to stick to what they know and the people they feel comfortable with, which often results in students [isolating] themselves. I also think that there is often a divide between American and international students, which makes interactions between the two very awkward.”

Northeastern’s population of international students is undeniably impressive — 16 percent of the student body. The school also has a dorm, International Village (IV), that houses both the international students and some domestic students, most of whom are in the honors program. In comparison to the location of other dorms on campus, IV may make the sense of community that comes with proximity difficult.

Ingy Jabri, an international student from Dubai, said that while there is a separation between international and domestic students, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I do feel like there is a divide, but I feel that it is a natural and positive one,” Jabri said. “Were it not for this divide, international students would find it difficult to stand out, in my opinion.”

Naomi Litman-Zelle, a senior anthropology major, said the international student population would likely not be so large if they weren’t satisfied with Northeastern. “I assume that Northeastern actively recruits international students and students of color to fulfill some sort of diversity quota, but since the international student population is large I would also assume that students return home and speak positively about Northeastern, which in turn encourages students to come,” she said. “Ironically, despite the large amount of ethnic and racial diversity on campus, I feel as though the ‘college culture’ is pretty ubiquitous, so that while Northeastern is diverse on paper, there is definitely a lack of diversity in terms of the student culture as a whole.”

In a poll of 100 students conducted by College Prowler, when asked how diverse the student body was in economic status, ethnic heritage, national origin, political affiliation, religious background and sexual orientation, students rated Northeastern closer to “extremely diverse” than “totally homogenous.” But when asked to describe their friend groups in the same categories, students described them as less diverse. In the same poll, 72 percent of students said the campus community as a whole is accepting toward someone who falls in the ethnic, religious or sexual orientation minority.

Cassie Harris, former president and current member of the Northeastern Black Student Association, described Northeastern as “being a primarily white institution, with an increasing international presence, especially from Asia.”

While Harris, a communication studies major and urban studies minor, said Northeastern students come from a wide range of countries and states, she felt the sense of diversity on campus may be skewed. “Domestic students of color are present, but may be portrayed as having a wider sweeping presence than they actually do,” she said. “Northeastern has shown drastic reduction in the number of domestic students and professors of African, Asian or Hispanic origin. The reported numbers seem to show growth in terms of overall diversity, but I believe the way the statistics are framed doesn’t portray the diminishing number of students of color from the US.”

Harris went on to say that Northeastern has a ways to go when it comes to non-ethnic diversity as well. “I also think Northeastern isn’t as diverse when it comes to socioeconomic status or class,” she said. “Based on personal experience, I’m faced with lack of variety in terms of background or privilege.”

Renata Nyul, Northeastern’s director of communications, declined to comment on behalf of the university, but referred to an address President Aoun made to the Northeastern community in February of 2013. In the address, Aoun said:

Deserving the Word: Diversity at Northeastern // Woof Magazine“As an educational institution, we welcome questions. Questions are at the heart of the learning process. But some questions transcend the usual academic give and take. Some questions demand clear answers. To leave them unanswered can lead to destructive tension and division. Let me be clear: If anyone in this community feels that they are not full members of the Northeastern family, that is unacceptable. Universities are communities of people: women and men who represent an incredible array of faiths, ethnicities, backgrounds and belief systems.”

Judging from statements like Aoun’s, Northeastern is a diverse place that welcomes that identity with open arms; it’s evident by its recruiting strategy and the make-up up of the student body. According to Litman-Zelle, though, one area where Northeastern is lacking s in educational diversity.

“I think that it offers diverse courses and attempts to equally promote each college within the university as a whole, but in general the learning style and type of education the school clings to is pretty homogenous,” Litman-Zelle said. “It’s actually kind of a shame since I think the students oftentimes possess an immense diversity of personal interests [and] could use higher education as a chance to enable numerous opportunities to grow and prosper.”

Harris said that though Northeastern could do more to embrace true diversity, the onus does not fall only on the administration. “For any of those students who are displeased with the current state of diversity, there is a lack of unified, organized pushback or protest,” she said. “Students haven’t been vocal enough about their concerns for diversity on campus. In order for change to happen, a presence and voice must be more distinct and effective.”

Jabri felt similarly. “I think that Northeastern does put a significant amount of effort in holding events to bring international students together, so now it’s up to the international students to make the effort to attend,” Jabri said. “Moreover, if some international students feel otherwise, then they should suggest their ideas and I’m sure there are many opportunities for them to do so.”

Litman-Zelle, Doherty and Harris all agreed that the school has room for improvement in making its dream of an integrated, diverse community a reality, but each added that Northeastern really is a place that has something for everyone.

Harris described it as a “big and diverse” school, where “finding a group of people that fit your values or demographic categories is never a challenge.”

Litman-Zelle spoke of the school similarly. “[You] will absolutely be able to find [your] niche at Northeastern,” she said. “Based on the people I’ve met, which is a tiny percentage of the people that go to this school, I have no doubt that any student would be able to find what they are looking for in terms of the student body.”

“Northeastern is a diverse school. It’s a fact,” Doherty concluded. “Every day you’ll interact with international students and people of different cultural backgrounds in your classes and club meetings,” he said. “Northeastern is what you make it. It’s diverse, but you can choose who to interact with and either close yourself off from new learning experiences or take advantage of the wide range of thoughts and beliefs.”