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Anti-Racism Actions at Tisch College

A message from Dean Alan Solomont

On June 1, I sent a letter to the Tisch College community joining in the calls for justice, and for real and sustained action, to end systemic racism and violence perpetrated against people of color in this country. At that time, I said that our civic responsibility demands that we act, especially in times of trauma and struggle. You can read the full letter here.

No institution is exempt from this responsibility, including Tufts University and Tisch College. Last week, President Monaco, Provost Aubry and members of the senior leadership team issued a statement on the steps that Tufts will take to become an anti-racist institution. Tisch College looks forward to being closely involved in every aspect of this plan.

Today, I am pleased to follow up with an update on the first set of specific actions that Tisch College has already taken or is initiating to advance this commitment. I’m calling this an update because this work is not complete, nor will it be. I intend to periodically reach out with more information and actions, and I hope you will share your views and ideas with me directly or write to Tisch College.

Here are some steps we have taken:

  • Support for students to take action. When I last wrote to you, I mentioned that the Tisch Student COVID Response (TSCR) Summer Program had been expanded to specifically support projects that address racial disparities exacerbated by the pandemic. I am proud to tell you that we received more than 200 grant applications from every School at Tufts, and awarded more than 70 grants to students. Now, to support more student-led work, we are opening the Tisch Civic Engagement Fund early, starting Friday, July 24, 2020, and we are doubling the funding available to support projects focused on racial justice. Students at all Tufts Schools are eligible to apply. Please read more here.
     
  • Free summer webinar series for all students. Tisch College is currently offering an 8-part, weekly webinar series aimed at supporting students and the entire Tufts community as we all navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing crises related to racial injustice. Sessions have focused, in particular, on issues of equity and the racial/social disparities of COVID-19. It is also addressing trauma, emotional resiliency, the role of politics, media and misinformation, voting, and civic leadership. You can view all sessions on our YouTube channel here.
     
  • New first-year interdisciplinary course. Because we believe that periods of adversity provide significant opportunities for personal and community growth, Tisch College is leading a collaborative initiative across Tufts that will provide foundational knowledge and skills in civic engagement to incoming first-year students. Using an integrative learning model that combines curricular and co-curricular elements, the course will instill University values and build civic identity, leadership, and agency from the moment students arrive at Tufts. The content specifically includes learning about racial equity and will provide opportunities to reflect on the role of inequality in society, in our own lives, and in our community. The final deliverable will be a roadmap to chart each student’s personal civic pathway and commitment to action.
     
  • Expanding the TUSM Common Book program. This year, Tisch College will again partner with the Tufts University School of Medicine’s Common Book program. For the past decade, this has provided a shared intellectual experience for incoming students to explore the core Tufts value of engagement in civic life and its relevance to a medical education. The 2020 book is So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. This year, Tisch College is supporting the expansion of the Common Book program to all TUSM students and faculty, and we will invite the author, Ijeoma Oluo, to virtually visit the campus as a speaker this fall.
     
  • Research for action, lifting up youth voices. Tisch College’s major research centers on youth civic participation—the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) and the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE)—continue to focus on strengthening the political participation of historically marginalized young people. CIRCLE is using exclusive new polling to highlight the role of young activists of color in ongoing efforts for social change and the potential impact of youth of color in the 2020 elections, as well as to advocate for youth of color to get the support they need so they can vote this November. IDHE is undertaking a comprehensive study aimed at erasing disparities in college student voting, including identifying gaps by race and ethnicity. IDHE will soon release a special edition of its Election Imperatives guide, which calls on higher education leaders to create inclusive coalitions, support student activism, and include teaching about social and political issues like civil rights and racial justice in the curriculum.
     
  • Inequality in America, University-wide research. Tisch College is collaborating on six recently announced grants from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, all of which have a strong focus on equity and give explicit attention to race. They include: “Transforming Civic Meetings through Online Remote Participation,” a partnership with the School of Engineering; “Civic Education Consortium: Building our World Through Civic Humanities, Critical Thinking, and Community Engagement,” in collaboration with the Department of Race, Colonialism & the Diaspora and involving partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) in the American South; “Fostering Social Emotional, Civic Learning in Higher Education,” a university-wide professional development program; and “Tufts Educational Reentry Network Program (TERN),” which helps formerly incarcerated people constructively manage their return from prison. Finally, Tisch College Associate Dean Peter Levine is co-leading the University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement, which brings together researchers from across the University to investigate aspects of equity and inequity. The group conducted a national representative survey of Americans in May-June 2020, and the first results, on police mistreatment and discrimination and on COVID-19, can be found here. In addition to the support from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Tisch College is funding an interactive data visualization tool and web site that is under development and will be available to the public.
     
  • Exploring our own policies and supporting staff learning and engagement. A key component of the University’s anti-racism plan is an institutional audit of structures, procedures, and educational content. At Tisch College, we will begin with an examination of our hiring and promotion procedures. Associate Dean Diane Ryan will lead this work, in close partnership with our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. In addition, to confront our own biases and advance our own understanding, all Tisch College staff are reading resources and watching pieces about anti-racism and discussing them virtually in small groups. All 50 members of our staff and leadership team are dedicating portions of each staff meeting (twice monthly) to this work, and it is being coordinated by our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. I thank my colleagues on this Committee for their leadership.
     
  • Resources for self-directed learning. If members of the Tufts community are thinking about how to get involved, learn more, and take action in their own lives, my colleagues at Tisch College put together a page of resources, which can be found here, and we will continue to add to it.  
     
  • Supporting voter registration and voting. Finally, please be reminded that every member of the Tufts community can use our tool at https://tufts.turbovote.org/ to register to vote and to sign up to receive text and email alerts about upcoming elections. Tisch College is proud to be home to JumboVote, a student-led, non-partisan initiative to engage all students in political participation and voting. As we all consider what actions we can take, one of our most fundamental civic responsibilities is to register and to vote—and to encourage others to do so. Voting isn’t sufficient to effect change, but it is one necessary condition.

As we move forward with this work, including the announcement of our speaker series for the fall semester, we will keep you informed. Please be our partners on this journey.