Carnegie Mellon University
January 18, 2024

Engaging in Deeper Conversations in 2024 and Beyond

Dear Members of the CMU Community:

Happy New Year and welcome back!

Carnegie Mellon University’s mission, when distilled into its simplest terms, is to educate as well as to create and leverage knowledge for the benefit of society. The open and respectful exchange of ideas and perspectives is essential to this mission, especially in a complicated and fractured world.

Over the past several months, the power of conversation has been particularly useful in helping our community confront hate and build bridges of understanding amid the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. I want to thank you — our students, faculty, staff, alumni, families and trustees — for your courage and compassion as we have engaged, connected and grown together.

As we begin 2024, it is my hope that we can continue to create and share opportunities for dialogue, so that together we can embrace our mission as an academic institution and shine a light on nuanced and potentially divisive topics. To that end, I invite you to explore Deeper Conversations, a university-wide initiative aimed at bringing together new and existing opportunities to explore divergent viewpoints and take a broader view on some of today’s most challenging issues.

This semester, Deeper Conversations will build on our programming from the fall by elevating conversations and resources related to confronting hate and learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two efforts anchor this exploration. The first is programming devoted to recognizing and combating hate, specifically in regards to the concerning rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia across society. This work is already well underway through the leadership of Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Heading-Grant. The second is a collaborative effort, presented by the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, to unpack and understand the historical, political and cultural context of the Israel-Hamas war. This work is being led by the deans of both colleges, Richard Scheines and Ramayya Krishnan, who will be sharing more details on the programming later today. I want to thank Deans Scheines and Krishnan as well as the members of their planning committee for curating an exceptional event lineup that is steeped in academic discourse and scholarship.

As we hear from our community and collaborate with campus partners, featured opportunities on Deeper Conversations will change to reflect the evolving societal context and issues of the day. Please check the Deeper Conversations webpage throughout this semester for the latest programming options and opportunities.

The final report from CMU’s Commission on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression reminds us that navigating a diverse and sometimes contentious world with respect for our bedrock principles requires the courage to engage in thoughtful ways. While it is not always easy or comfortable to confront misinformation or consider perspectives outside of our own, coming together for dialogue is the clearest path toward peace and understanding — and is fundamental to preserving our democracy.

We will not always get these steps right, and we may find the complexities and nuances of these issues overwhelming at times. Yet, even in the face of these risks, I strongly believe that facilitating civil discourse and modeling its power to unify, educate and build bridges is precisely the role that higher education can and should play in a society increasingly marked by division. By doing so, we will not only produce informed and engaged citizens of the world but more effectively advance our institutional mission of leveraging knowledge for the greater good.

Warm regards,

Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair