Re-Envisioning the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground

April 29, 2016

Dear Members of the Boston University Community,

The Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground is a very special part of our Boston University community. In December I charged a committee of faculty, staff, and students to consider how we might build upon and leverage the Thurman Center’s mission and capacities so that the Thurman Center could have a greater impact in helping all of us to build and nurture a Boston University community that is diverse and inclusive. Since its inception, the Thurman Center has been—as its carefully chosen name indicates—dedicated to finding those common, universal threads that bind us together and strengthen our community.

The committee, led by Kenn Elmore, associate provost and dean of students, and Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of the School of Theology, has submitted its final report. The report is a result of a community-based process that included listening sessions and discussions, analysis of the efforts of other institutions, and the gathering of input from an online questionnaire.

The committee has proposed an expanded mission for the Thurman Center that is the starting point for a series of recommendations.

That expanded mission is “to permeate the Boston University campus with an ethos of common ground that is symbolic, organic, visible, comprehensive, and multi-local. More specifically, the Thurman Center will be an interdisciplinary, interracial, interreligious, intersectional, and interpersonal hub where students can relate what they learn in the classroom to a broader quest for understanding, social progress, and peace.”

The committee envisions the expanded Thurman Center as an organization that promotes engaged learning and ethical reasoning that will help develop the qualities of a 21st-century BU graduate as they were described in the The Report of the Task Force on General Education: intrepid and humble; resilient, self-sufficient, and nimble; introspective, responsible, ethical, world-wise, and curious.

As you will see in its report, the Thurman Center Committee makes three recommendations:

  1. Move the Thurman Center to a space that becomes a hub or crossroads as well as a visible symbol for Boston University. The committee has imagined an expanded, comfortable, state-of-the-art facility where students and other members of our community can participate in casual and more structured conversations and meetings.
  2. Expand the programming of the Thurman Center, building upon the current palette of offerings, and launching new initiatives that meet the more comprehensive vision for the Thurman Center that the committee has proposed. The committee’s report contains excellent suggestions about a role for the Thurman Center in leadership development and network-building. The committee also envisions a new, virtual version of the Thurman Center which would convene or co-host a variety of events across the University at different sites and potentially online. Further, the Center could become more active reaching and responding beyond the boundaries of the University.
  3. To accomplish the expanded goals for the Thurman Center, the committee proposed increased staffing.

I am moving forward with the three recommendations of the committee. I have asked Dean Kenn Elmore, working with Katherine Kennedy, the director of the Thurman Center, to develop a plan for expanding programming activity and staffing of the Thurman Center. Our goal will be to begin to implement this part of the plan by the fall. I also have asked University Provost Jean Morrison to assemble a group of stakeholders to determine space needs for the expanded Thurman Center and to identify a new location. During the design process, this group of stakeholders will serve as an advisory group to ensure that the new design is consistent with the vision articulated by the Thurman Center Committee.

I want to close by thanking the Thurman Center Committee for their outstanding effort. I believe they have developed a blueprint to enable us to more fully realize Howard Thurman’s dream of creating the common ground that strengthens the Boston University community.


Robert A. Brown signature
Robert A. Brown

Report of Howard Thurman Center Vision Committee