THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
< Back to front page Text size +

Muslims, non-Muslims weigh challenges of Millennial Generation

February 28, 2014 12:06 PM

In a brightly lit room, a group of about 80 people from Northeastern University and the surrounding Fenway neighborhood listened attentively to three young Muslim professionals talk about their personal struggles and failures during an event hosted by the Islamic Society of Northeastern University.

The panel discussion was titled Refugee Camps, Typewriters, and Make-Up: The Millennial Muslim. It featured Wajahat Ali, a television host/anchor in Al Jazeera’s The Stream, a show devoted to community and civic journalism. Dr. Sarah Kureshi, a physician and human rights advocate for refugee and minority groups focusing on public health issues, and Haroon Moghul, a columnist and writer for various online publications including Al Arabiya News, an Arab news site, also joined the discussion.

“We wanted to bring in speakers that people could relate to,” said Tala Alghusain, co-president of the Islamic Society of Northeastern. “Whether they were human rights activists or whether they were working with Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya, we just wanted people who did represent Islam, but also that represented politics in the Middle East.”

The 2 ˝ hour meeting directed itself toward identifying the millennial Muslim and the challenges this generation must deal with in defining their identity as individuals and as Muslims.

“I think they really helped us understand that we can open up to each other,” said Alghusain.

Wajahat Ali, the first speaker, set the mood by revealing his personal struggles after graduating from college. He talked about how he had to embrace failure to find his passion in writing.

Ali talked about how his childhood as an oddball and sick child set him up for the challenges in his late 20s. Ali spoke how at 26, he found himself with a failed law career, five dollars in his pocket, and a family to care for as his parents had gone bankrupt. He stressed the internal conflict he faced at defying the prescribed guidelines of success – which included becoming a doctor and finding a wife by age 30- that had been passed down generation after generation in his family in order to do what he wanted to do.

“Had it not been for my acceptance that I was a failure, and that I would have to chart my own path,” said Ali, “I don’t think I would have embraced my definition of success.”

Ali’s main point was to encourage the millennial generation to figure out their own definitions of success, and to stray from the idea that success is defined by the occupation, wealth or culture you come from.

Dr. Sarah Kureshi followed, focusing on how she became involved with refugee camps and human rights. Kureshi talked about how she chose medicine as her career because it served as the perfect medium to combine her skills and passions, rather than to become a doctor for the name or respect it would bring. Kureshi said that as a teenager in a small town in Florida, she faced discrimination from professors, and was only treated with respect when they realized she was the daughter of a well-known doctor. She said that those experiences disgusted her, and made her want to break free of labels.

¨I wasn´t interested in any of those labels,¨ said Kureshi. ¨I wanted to do thing I wanted to do because I was passionate it about them and not because it pleased other people.¨

Kureshi told about how her first experience with refugees in Burma gave her a purpose, and she discovered her path through public health and community service. Kureshi´s main message was to urge the millennial generation to explore their skills and then to apply them to help the community.

Haroon Moghul continued the conversation by talking about his biggest fear and the importance of understanding your fears. Moghul told how his first girlfriend made him realize that his greatest fear was how unstable life was. However, Moghul said that his love for writing and his career as a writer made him overcome this fear.

As the discussion proceeded, the concept of a professional Muslim - which refers to a trend in Muslims who grew up during 9/11 to create an identity as advocates for the positive and human side of Islam - was popular. Moghul stated that in the process of becoming a professional Muslim many people in this generation had lost track of themselves as individuals.

¨We have lost sight of the human being,¨ said Moghul,¨ and we are forced by our communities to be a cardboard perfect cut-out of a Muslim.¨

Ali and Kureshi said that the millennial generation had to move away from this idea of presenting themselves as perfect. Instead, they encouraged them to accept the imperfections in their culture, attitudes, and to some extent religious ideas.

¨I think the next phase of being a professional Muslim is for our generation to push things forward, ¨ said Ali, ¨and really addressing the human component of being an individual who happens to be a Muslim.¨

Some of the other topics discussed during the meeting included:


  • The role of women in Islam

  • The concept of atheism

  • The flexibility of the Qur'an

  • Political conflicts in Egypt and Turkey

Some who attended the talk said they found it enlightening and different from the usual Muslim-oriented events, which according to Anika Alam are often formal and serious. Alam, a pharmacy student at Northeastern, said she had looked forward to the talk because it featured Muslim professionals who had faced the challenge of balancing their religion, culture and profession.

¨They promote the human experience," said Alam about the talk. ¨They show us that whatever religion we are, whether Muslim, Catholic, Jewish or Buddhist, we are all human, we all struggle together.¨

Joshua Frank, who was one of the few non-Muslim attendees and is Jewish, agreed with Alam. Frank said that he enjoyed the humanity and connectivity that the speakers displayed.

¨I think they just enable people to understand that communities are very similar,¨ said Frank, ¨and that is a beautiful thing.¨

The event, organized by the Islamic Society of Northeastern University, is part of a larger series called Islam 360° that aims to cover Islam from different angles outside religion.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

Boston schools seek to reduce driving on campus, encourage public transportation

February 6, 2014 06:25 PM

In an effort to shift away from driving, universities and colleges in the Greater Boston area are offering students more options to use public transportation and opportunities to shape transportation policy, according to a report released Thursday by MASSPIRG Education Fund.

The report, titled "A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy," featured University of Massachusetts Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and Harvard University as innovators in transportation policy. The schools offer students discounts on popular public transportation options or make it difficult to park and drive on campus.

"Here in Massachusetts, we have so many great colleges and universities who already have given these policies a test run," said Kirstie Pecci, staff attorney at MASSPIRG. "Now state policymakers need to pick up the baton, look at what works, and institute these policies themselves."

One transportation option all these schools have in common is the Hubway bike-sharing service.

"Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and UMass Boston have all instituted Hubway stations that would benefit students across the country," Pecci said. "The difficult part of these programs is that every university and locale is unique and there are always new hurdles that they have to overcome. However, when you have a laundry list of different options, it's very doable.

"The Millennial generation believes in alternative modes of transportation. If the state gives them these options, they they can hop on board."

Americans ages 16 to 34 reduced their annual driving miles by 23 percent per person between 2001 and 2009, according to research from the most recent data from the Federal Highway Administration, the report said.

"There has to be a buy-in by all the parties and there has to be investment by the MBTA and by the universities," Pecci said. "Instead of subsidizing parking, do public transportation when the programs have worked and the students have valued it."

The Massachusetts Legislature voted in July 2013 to override Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's veto of an $800 million transportation finance bill. Patrick originally proposed a $19 billion transportation bond bill to fund road, bridge, and rail projects for 10 years.

"The transportation finance act last year was fine, but there has to be recognition that this was just a first step. Many of the investment programs were handled, but further investment will be needed as we work on the system," Pecci said. "We need to refine what work needs to be done. Much of it is making a modern and safe system. We need to keep this conversation alive."

Some students at universities in Boston said they like having a car on campus because it provides another outlet to get to places further than public transportation allows.

"Having a car offers the liberty that public transportation can't provide us," said Boston University sophomore Tyler Bartels, who has a car on campus. "Public transportation puts everything into a structure. Plans revolve around when you leave in order to make the train, but with a car, it gives you more freedom."

Elliott Johns, a fourth year student at Northeastern, said the only reason he had a car was for his co-op program.

"I work in Billerica and the only way I can get there is by driving," Johns said. "Even when I'm not on co-op, I'm tempted to keep my car because I live in Coolidge Corner on the C Line. Northeastern is on the E Line and it's about a 30 minute walk to campus, but on the T is also about 30 minutes. It's definitely convenient because when it gets colder, it is really easy and convenient to just drive over to campus and park for free."

Mitch Gallerstein, a sophomore at Northeastern, said he does not have a car on campus because in Boston, he can get around well-enough without one.

"You can walk and the T is pretty cheap," he said. "For the most part, they do a pretty good job with the system. Yes, it can be a little painful with delays and not getting a lot of information from them, but it is convenient that we have two stops right on our campus. You can take that downtown and get pretty much anywhere you need to go."

Johns said when he uses public transportation, he is content with the MBTA system.

"Coming from Florida, where the only system we had was buses, it wasn't very practical," he said. "But here, it is very practical. If I didn't have a job where I needed to get a car, then I wouldn't have it. Parking is very expensive here and overall I am happy with the improvements they have made so far."

Uber Boston announces competition between colleges for free week of rides

February 4, 2014 02:46 PM

With the spring semester in full swing and more cold weather fast approaching, Uber Boston announced a promotion Tuesday that will allow an entire college campus a free week of uberX.

The car-for-hire app is offering the free week to Boston University, Boston College, Harvard University, and Northeastern University students who get 1,500 people to sign up for Uber using their own campus code.

"This is extremely relevant for the new semester and the frigid weather we are having," said Meghan Verena Joyce, general manager of Uber Boston and Providence. "Students are looking to go out at night, reconnect with classmates, and start their internships. We just want to offer students an affordable, easy, and safe way to get around and thought this would be a great opportunity to start things off with a bang."

Students have until Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 11:59 p.m. to have their friends, family, and colleagues sign-up using their specific college code. With the promo code, new users will receive $20 off their first ride for uberX and the opportunity to win the free week.

The participating schools' promo codes are the following:

  • Boston University: BosuberXtraCredit1

  • Boston College: BosuberXtraCredit2

  • Northeastern University: BosuberXtraCredit3

  • Harvard University: BosuberXtraCredit4

Joyce said Uber timed the promotion to align with the 62nd annual Beanpot Hockey Tournament.

"It also happens to be the week of the Beanpot and while the players are competing on the ice, we thought the schools could compete and try uberX to win some rides."

While the school who reaches 1,500 people first will win all the fame and glory, Joyce said all the schools have the opportunity to win a free week of uberX if they get all the necessary people by Feb. 12.

"We are just incredibly excited to introduce ourselves to college students and to have them and their friends join together and rally for their school," Joyce said. "It really is an affordable way to get around the city of Boston and it opens up the city to the students. It gives them the option to get around and to safely do it. We are excited to see how this contest goes."

The discount is not valid for uberTAXI and students who already are an Uber user should encourage their friends to download the app, she said.

"Both new and existing riders will get a free ride of uberX if they get all 1,500 people and if I were an existing rider, I would sign up my fellow classmates and post on Facebook to get as many sign ups with my schools promo code," said Joyce.

According to the Uber blog, students who aren't new to the service have a number of ways to get the word out to the rest of their campus.

Here are some ideas to make things easy:

  • Share the signup code with your dance squad, newspaper staff, lacrosse bros, or Quidditch crew.

  • Tell your RA and TA. Tell your librarian. Get your favorite dining hall lady to get on board.

  • Pitch yourself a tent in the quad and recruit random passersby. Bonus points for tourists sporting your school's sweatshirts.

  • You can share the code with anybody you'd like; as long as they are new to Uber, it will count towards your goal.


Kyle Plantz can be reached at kyle.plantz@globe.com. Find him on Twitter at @kylejplantz.

Reports of sexual assaults rise on Boston-area college campuses

February 3, 2014 11:00 AM

Reports of sexual assaults at Boston-area colleges have risen over the past five years, a Globe review of federally reported data has found.

Campus safety experts say the rise in reporting of sexual assaults suggests that many colleges – pushed by government agencies, victims, and new federal guidelines – are improving efforts to address the problem by expanding education and outreach and by more thoroughly reporting the widely underreported crime.

“When we see sexual assault numbers increase, that hopefully means the barriers to reporting are finally beginning to be addressed, which means you are beginning the steps to solve the problem,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative who has spent more than two decades studying campus safety.

An estimated 88 percent of college victims do not formally report sexual assaults, according to a federal study.

Across 22 of the largest campuses in and around Boston, reports of “forcible sex offenses” rose by nearly 40 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the most recent data supplied by colleges as required under the federal Clery Act.

The total of 113 sexual assaults reported in 2012 at the Boston-area colleges reviewed for this report is the highest level in a decade, and mirror trends at campuses nationwide. Meanwhile, reports of other serious type of crime at area schools – murder, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson – have declined or barely increased, according to the federal data.

The Clery reports cover allegations of crimes that occurred on campus, including dorms and other public property; at property owned by but separated from the main campus; and fraternities and sororities. They exclude other off-campus housing.

Below are examples from some of the schools’ with data that stood out:

Harvard

Over the past five years, Harvard University has consistently reported more sexual assaults per year, and more incidents per enrolled student, than any other campus in the Boston area. In 2012, 38 cases were reported, up from 19 in 2008.

Harvard officials said the university has been active in recent years in trying to address the issue, including creating in 2002 a centralized office with victim-support services and resources to help students learn about sexual assault prevention and response.

“We firmly believe that more robust reporting of sexual assaults by victims is an important component of our efforts to prevent these crimes and ensure that victims get the support that they need,” said Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin.

UMass Boston

UMass Boston reported the second-highest number of alleged assaults in 2012, at 13, up from 0 five years earlier.

Crystal Valencia, a spokeswoman for the school, said none of the 2012 incidents involved a student from the university and only one of the 2012 reported incidents occurred on campus. The others happened at off-campus property the university either owns, leases, or controls.

“UMass Boston is committed to maintaining the highest standards for the safety and security of every person on campus,” Valencia said.

BU, Northeastern

Over the past five years, Harvard has led all local schools reporting on average about 10 sexual assaults each year for every 10,000 students. Still, those rates are still well-below estimates of actual annual rape rates. For instance, a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women, or 520 in every 10,000, are sexually assaulted each year; the study did not calculate a rate for men or men and women together.

Other large local schools have reported significantly fewer sexual assaults each year. Over the past five years, Boston University and Northeastern University have each reported on average about two sexual assaults each year for every 10,000 students.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that trains colleges and universities to comply with the Clery Act, said she’s usually most alarmed by Clery reports with low sexual assault figures.

“We constantly tell parents and students that higher sexual assault numbers aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “It often means students know where to go to report and that they’re comfortable doing so.”

“I’m typically more concerned when I see a school reporting zeroes across the board,” Kiss added.

Yet, “All too-often it’s the colleges with the higher statistics that get labeled as being dangerous when in fact they’re usually the ones who are doing a better job reporting,” Carter said.

Madeleine Estabrook, associate vice president for student affairs at Northeastern, said the university is “very diligent” in reporting its Clery data.

She said the school’s low sexual assault reporting may be due to a wide range of variables that could impact the data, including the school’s geographic location and configuration, the number of students living on campus and the university’s efforts around sexual assault prevention and response.

“The work that is done to make the campus safe in secure is a very important variable to consider,” Estabrook said.

She said that five years ago, with help from a grant from the Department of Justice, the university revamped its violence support, response and education programming. That effort included building a collaboration among existing services on the campus, uniting programs around sexual assault, alcohol use and other campus safety issues.

Estabrook said the university's programming around campus safety is regarded as "cutting edge not only in Boston but also nationally."

BU created a campus crisis center in 2012 to focus on rape and sexual assault prevention and support for victims of such acts as well as other forms of physical abuse, such as hazing.

Colin Riley, a spokesman for BU, said the university is thorough and accurate in its reporting of Clery data.

And, "We also recognize it’s very important that students feel comfortable reporting," he said.

Riley said the university works to ensure students are aware of the issue.

"This is a topic that is frequently discussed on campus," he said.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Congress, experts call on federal officials, campuses to improve campus sexual assault data collection efforts

February 3, 2014 11:00 AM

More than three dozen members of Congress have written to the federal office in charge of enforcing the Clery Act, calling on it to do a better job of collecting data on campus sexual assaults.

Advocacy groups and researchers have been calling for better, more transparent data collection for years. The Globe’s review of Clery data -- federally mandated reports on campus crime -- found that the number of assaults reported by most, if not all, campuses – both locally and nationally – over the past decade have been much lower than estimates of numerous studies.

Even with a spike in reported campus sexual assaults over the past five years, the rates schools are reporting come nowhere close to figures in a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study which estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women are sexually assaulted each year.

Experts say such low numbers tend to mean schools either need to do more to make students feel comfortable reporting the crime or schools need to do a more thorough, honest job in their methods for collecting and reporting the data, or a combination of the two. Stronger federal oversight could be a key driver for this, too, experts say.

Campuses urged to monitor prevalence, not just reported cases

One part of the letter signed by 39 members of Congress called on the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights to require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys of students to more accurately report how prevalent sexual assault is on each campus – not simply how often it is reported.

An estimated 88 percent of victims do not formally report the crime, according to a 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice.

David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has spent the past three decades researching campus sexual assault, said the fact that few, if any, schools study how prevalent the crime actually is on their campuses “underscores one of the major shortcomings in how higher education has been handling sexual assault.”

Lisak, who recently retired from teaching at UMass Boston, has advised US military officials on how to prevent and respond to sexual assault cases at service academies.

He said that changes made by the Department of Defense in just the past several years has led military academies to implement better methods of collecting meaningful data about sexual assaults than higher education has managed over the past two-and-a-half decades since the Clery Act was signed into law in 1990.

The country’s three military academies not only compile annual statistics on sexual assaults reported to authorities, but also conduct an anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen every two years to get a more accurate picture of how many sexual assaults actually occur.

For example, during the 2011-12 academic year, 58 sexual assaults were reported at the service academies, according to a report from the Department of Defense to Congress. But an anonymous survey estimated the actual number of sexual assaults at the academies that year was about 526.

“We’ve really been focusing our efforts on trying to increase reporting so victims can get the help they need,” said Department of Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson.

Asked why few, if any, higher education institutions anonymously survey students regularly about sexual assault, Lisak said: “Because then the numbers are out there.”

“There’s still a lot of resistance,” he added. “All universities have mechanisms already in place [to conduct such a survey]. This would not be technically challenging really at any level. We really just need the will.”

The Jan. 29 letter from members of Congress also urges the education department office to: be more transparent about its investigations and enforcement actions around campus sexual assault and harassment; create a central, public database about laws and guidelines schools are expected to follow around the issue of sexual assault; and to require campuses to be more transparent in disclosing what each is doing to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including making available information about crime statistics, enforcement actions, and students’ rights under Title IX.

When asked for a response to the letter, Education Department press secretary Dorie Nolt said in a statement: “We have received the letter and will respond to it. We agree that this is a very important issue, which is why we have prioritized civil rights enforcement and are working to galvanize a national effort to help prevent sexual assaults and to better support survivors of sexual violence. In fact, last week, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to establish the ‘White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.’”

Federal department unsure why some Clery figures seem off

The figures that the Globe reviewed for its story on campus sexual assault came directly from an online database run by the federal Education Department.

Every higher education institution in the US that receives federal financial aid is required by law to submit he data to the department. The department then posts those figures to the website, www.ope.ed.gov/security.

The data dates back to as early as 2001, but some of the crime figures, particularly between 2001 and 2003 seem unbelievably high.

Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department, also doubted the validity of some of the data between 2001 and 2003 but said she had no idea why the numbers were likely wrong and said she did not know of anyone in the department would could provide an explanation for the apparent inconsistencies.

She said the department simply collects the data from schools and posts the numbers online. She said the department tries to check back with schools if certain numbers seem off, but otherwise the department does not analyze the data it collects.

Glickman also declined to comment on, and said she did not know anyone in the department who could comment on, why the Globe’s review found that the number of sexual assaults has risen in recent years while other crime types have gone down or held relatively steady.

“The law calls on the department to collect campus crime data and ensure that institutions are complying with the law’s provisions,” Glickman wrote in an email. “We do not analyze the data or do research into why certain crime categories are going up or down.”

However, the department is the only agency in charge of enforcing the Clery Act and its data reporting rules.

In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, the department completed a total of 59 investigations into schools suspected of not being in full compliance with the Clery Act, according to a list of the finished reports on the education department’s website that the spokeswoman referred the Globe to. Of those, 34 investigations were completed in the four years between 2009 and 2012.

She said the department does not disclose investigations that are ongoing.

The department conducts such reviews if: a complaint is filed; “a media event raises certain concerns;” the school’s independent audit “identifies serious non-compliance;” or through a “review selection process,” the website says.

Glickman said the department takes all complaints and reviews seriously but noted that some reviews take several years and said that the department has limited resources to conduct such investigations.

A 2002 study funded by the Department of Justice found that about only 36.5 percent of schools reported “crime statistics in a manner that was fully consistent with the Clery Act.”

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights also investigates allegations of colleges and universities violating Title IX, the federal civil rights law protecting students from general discrimination.

Over the past several years, the number of such complaints related specifically to campus sexual violence has risen, according to data provided by department spokesman Jim Bradshaw.

In the both the 2009 and 2010 fiscal year there were 11 such complaints. There were 18 complaints in 2011 and 17 the following year before the number of complaints spiked to 30 during 2013.

In the department’s current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have already been 13 such complaints.

The office said it currently has 39 pending Title IX investigations involving allegations of sexual violence at post-secondary institutions.

Still, experts say more needs to be done to hold schools accountable.

“The Office for Civil Rights is broken,” said Colby Bruno, an attorney at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, who runs training programs about the education rights of sexual assault victims and helps some students file federal complaints against their schools.

“The law isn’t really lacking. Where we’re lacking is enforcement,” she added.

Getting Clery data from the Education Department website, especially for years prior to 2005, can be confusing and cumbersome.

Even after the data is found, it’s can be difficult to interpret, in part because schools are given leeway in how they interpret certain aspects of the law and thus how they report. For instance, Glickman said schools “have latitude” in how they determine what areas around their campus to include when they report Clery data.

“To me the data is vitally important because there’s a sense of accountability and I think schools need that,” said Bruno. “Reliable data is also important because we want to see if programming and prevention efforts are working.”

Other past, ongoing efforts to improve Clery

The letter from members of Congress was led by Democrat US Representatives Jackie Speier, of California, and Carolyn Maloney, of New York. The letter also said the office should provide campuses with better guidance about how to respond to same-sex violence and gender identity discrimination.

In recent years, some efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness of the Clery Act.

In a “Dear Colleague Letter” issued April 4, 2011, the federal education department outlined a series of guidelines for how colleges should respond to sexual harassment and violence.

Last year, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, which added a section called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, a law setting new standards for how campuses report sex offenses. Schools will need to comply with those new regulations for the first time when they submit Clery reports this coming fall.

And, last week, to go along with the release of a White House report on the prevalence and devastating effects of sexual assault on college campuses, Obama created a task force of senior administration officials who, with input from campus officials, students, advocacy groups and law enforcement, will try to find ways to protect students from rape and sexual assault.

Obama said he the group’s first body of work is due in 90 days.

Advocates for sexual-assault victims say that, to go along with changes at the federal level, they have seen a surge in activism around the issue from students, campus organizations, and alumni.

Particularly, “We’re seeing a lot more victims willing to step forward and publicly talk about what happened to them and using that as a pressure for change,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-sexual violence organization.

“Hopefully that will put some pressure on colleges about how they deal with it,” he added.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Northeastern launches lab to empower social change, civic engagement

January 23, 2014 03:58 PM

The success of a free massive open online course focused on philanthropy has prompted Northeastern University, which founded the course in partnership with the sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, to launch a laboratory designed to empower social change and civic engagement, campus officials said.

The university announced this week the launch of the Social Impact Lab, describing it as “a hub of innovative experiential curricula, programming, and events designed to empower social change and civic engagement across disciplines and around the world.”

The lab’s signature program will be “Giving With Purpose,” a free online course that teaches effective charitable giving. The university said it is the first-ever MOOC focused on philanthropy and informed civic engagement.

The course, which debuted this past summer, was created in partnership with the Learning by Giving Foundation, which Doris Buffett, 85, founded and directs.

She is the older sister of billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett.

“I am invested in sharing my passion for philanthropy with the next generation of philanthropic leaders,” Doris Buffett said in a statement.

“‘Giving With Purpose’ exceeded all of our expectations last summer, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to offer it again this spring with Northeastern University,” she added.

A key aspect of the course is having participants help decide how to award money from Doris Buffett’s foundation to local nonprofits. During the course’s inaugural run, more than 10,000 people participated helping to distribute $130,000 to 40 nonprofits.

Guest speakers in the MOOC have included both Warren and Doris Buffett, as well as former Major League Baseball player Cal Ripken Jr., broadcast journalist Soledad O'Brien, Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, and Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

The course will re-launch in March featuring new guests and a new platform. In the coming fall, the course will be offered as a credit-bearing course.

“It is a challenge and responsibility that we work together to create a global culture of philanthropy,” Northeastern president Joseph E. Aoun, said in a statement. “This MOOC is leading the field with its model of experiential philanthropy and will drive new ways of giving across platforms, continents, and generations.”

Along with the course, Northeastern’s new Social Impact Lab will feature several other “experiential learning programs that bridge the classroom and the community,” campus officials said.

A philanthropy education program run by the lab, Northeastern Students4Giving, has students “study civic engagement and social change while making real-dollar grants to Boston-area nonprofits,” officials said.

Rebecca Riccio, the founding director of Northeastern Students4Giving and the teacher of the “Giving With Purpose” MOOC, has been appointed director of the Social Impact Lab, which will be housed within the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“The MOOC epitomizes our vision of the Social Impact Lab as a conduit between theory and practice — a platform for students to apply what they are learning in the classroom to real-world challenges and opportunities,” Riccio said in a statement. “Our goal is to give students a comprehensive toolkit for translating good intentions into effective, financially sustainable strategies for achieving social change.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Obama pledges stand against college sexual assaults

January 22, 2014 02:30 PM

tumblr_mw7oufPubx1sn3zgho1_500.jpg

Surviving in Numbers

The numbers are small and large. They symbolize days, months, and years. They describe conversations had and not had. They represent attackers and attacks, scars and bruises, nightmares and suicide attempts.

But most importantly, the numbers illustrate resilience in the face of sexual assault--legal cases won, fears abated, and messages spread.

They inform the sexual assault awareness campaign "Surviving in Numbers," a Tumblr of posters submitted by victims and an exhibit at Massachusetts colleges and universities.

"The numbers are powerful because they give freedom for someone to express their story in the numbers they choose," said Ali Safran, the creator of "Surviving in Number and a Mount Holyoke senior, in November. "They also make it easier from people who are not survivors to understand because numbers are an easy concept."

Here are two striking ones: One in five women has been sexually assaulted at college, a new White House report found, and only 12 percent of student victims report the assault.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday an initiative to combat sexual assaults, particularly those on college campuses. Obama assigned a newly formed task force of college administrators 90 days to formulate a list of recommendations on preventing and responding to college sexual assaults, reported The Associated Press.

The White House Council on Women and Girls report, entitled "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," found that 22 million American woman and 1.6 million men have been victims of sexual assaults. The criminal justice response is often lacking, the report said, due to police bias and inadequate training.

‘‘No one is more at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted than women at our nation’s colleges and universities,’’ said the report.

According to a Boston.com study of 2013 Clery Act reports, there were 101 reports of forcible sex offenses and one report of a non-forcible sex offense at local colleges and universities.

byschool.jpg

Forcible sex offenses on Boston-area campuses predominantly occurred in residential buildings.

location.jpg

Reports of sexual assaults on campuses have increased in recent years. In 2010, 68 forcible sex offenses were reported, according to Boston-area colleges' Clery Act reports. At Harvard University, the number of reports nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012.

Harvard University Police Department spokesman Steven Catalano told Boston.com in September that because rapes are under-reported, he hopes the increase in reported cases means more victims are coming forward and not that more crimes are occurring on campus.

Decreasing the number of cases and making reporting them easier is the goal of Obama's task force.

"The president is committed to solving this problem, not just as president of the United States, but as a father of two girls," senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told the AP.

Safran said her own sexual assault came the year before college. "Surviving in Numbers" was inspired by her recollections of that time.

"I thought about the number of people who I had told my story to with no result," said Safran. "Then, I focused more on the number of things I've done since the assault."

Since it launched in October 2012, "Surviving in Numbers" has received more than 250 anonymous poster submissions. Safran has worked with students at Boston University, Tufts University, and Mount Holyoke College, displaying the signs on campus and offering time and supplies for victims to make one of their own.

Safran said she hopes the Obama administration will elicit survivor input in addressing the prevalence of sexual assaults.

"It’s a great step," she said, of the initiative. "And college campuses are a great place to start."

Younger voters slip away from Obama amid health care missteps, spying disclosures, gridlock

January 12, 2014 09:54 AM

An electric atmosphere took over the University of New Hampshire last Election Day. Students covered sidewalks with messages in chalk, urging students to vote — and to vote for President Obama. Buses and minivans circled campus, shuttling students to the polls.

The efforts paid off: Obama carried Durham, N.H., by a two-to-one vote, on his way to winning the crucial swing state.

A little more than a year later, the mood has changed — alarmingly, for Democratic Party leaders — in a shift that also is reflected in national polls. Students are increasingly turned off by politics, and by the Democratic Party. Even those who were enthusiastic about Obama say they are jaded by gridlock in Washington, disillusioned by a president they thought would be transformational.

“The public has seen that it wasn’t magic,” said Tyler Gullbrand, president of the UNH College Democrats.

Globe subscribers can read the entire story here.

Northeastern creates new bioengineering department

January 9, 2014 11:36 AM

Northeastern University is creating a new bioengineering department, campus officials announced.

The news comes less than a month after the university received final approval from city officials to build a new $225 million research building dedicated to science and engineering studies, fields that Boston-area higher education institutions have made major investments in recently.

The new department will be created within the university’s College of Engineering.

“The department will present exciting new research and learning opportunities across other colleges and disciplines for students and faculty and will leverage the healthcare and biotechnology industries’ rapid growth,” the university said in a statement.

The department will develop new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and new research programs in bioengineering and will incorporate an existing doctoral program in the field. The department will also offer co-op program opportunities.

“It will build upon the innovative research already underway by Northeastern faculty and students across disciplines in areas such as tissue engineering, biodevices, biomechanics, and nanotechnology in medicine and the environment,” the university said.

“These projects include developing carbon nanotubes that could yield transformative breakthroughs in drug delivery; bio-bandages that monitor bacterial growth or that help damaged ligaments heal faster; sheets of cells folded like origami to form a working kidney; and new materials that—like a leaf in the sun—automatically sense and adapt to changes in the environment,” the statement added.

College of Engineering Dean Nadine Aubry said the department will also aim to collaborate with the large biotech industry in the Boston-area.

“The new department is poised to flourish as an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment for our students, our researchers, and our external partners in the bio-engineering domain,” Aubry said in a statement.

Over the past seven years, the university has recruited 387 tenured and tenure-track faculty, and its annual research funding has more than doubled, campus officials have said. Northeastern plans to recruit another 300 faculty over the next five years.

Most of those impending hires will work in the new science and engineering facility, slated to open in the fall of 2016, and will research the fields of health, security, and sustainability.

The university said it will search for a bioengineering department chair during the coming spring semester. In the meantime, professor Lee Makowski will serve as interim chair.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Many Boston colleges, universities close early Thursday, will stay closed Friday due to snowstorm

January 2, 2014 03:24 PM

Many Boston-area college and university campuses closed early today and will remain closed Friday because of a significant storm that is expected to drop more than a foot of snow locally.

But it may not feel like a true snow day because most students and professors are still on winter break.

The list of schools that have already shut down most, if not all, operations or plan to do so by 3 p.m. includes: Babson College, Bentley University, Berklee College of Music, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Emerson College, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Simmons College, Suffolk University, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, UMass Boston, and UMass Lowell, according to the respective websites of the institutions.

Babson, Bentley, Berklee, BC, BU, Brandeis, Emerson, Harvard, Northeastern, Tufts, UMass Boston, and UMass Lowell also announced they will remain closed tomorrow.

Simmons, Suffolk and UMass Amherst have not announced if their campuses will be closed or open Friday.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

Connect to Northeastern