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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Initiative on Social-Emotional Learning and Civic Engagement

Social-Emotional Learning Initiative


Social-emotional learning involves developing the skills needed to recognize and manage emotions, handle conflict constructively, establish positive relationships guided by empathy, engage in perspective-taking, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations effectively. As part of a growing recognition of the importance of these skills for a young person’s educational development and lifelong wellbeing, the Tisch College Initiative on Social-Emotional Learning and Civic Engagement (SEL-CE) seeks to further integrate them into educational practices, campus programs, and research throughout Tufts University, with a special focus on its connections to student engagement in civic life.

The SEL-CE initiative has three primary and interconnected goals:

  • To help all Tufts students, at every level and on every campus, to develop their social-emotional skills through civic engagement experiences in the classroom and beyond
  • To encourage and prepare faculty members to incorporate aspects of social-emotional learning in their teaching and research, in order to give SEL a more central role in the Tufts educational experience
  • To generate new knowledge in this field to benefit not only Tufts students and faculty, but also other institutions that seek to strengthen their commitment to SEL and civic engagement

The Social-Emotional Learning and Civic Engagement initiative also focuses on diversity and inclusion, with special attention to how multiple, diverse identities (e.g. race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) interact and affect the experiences and wellbeing of Tufts students, faculty, and staff.

The initiative was launched in early 2017 thanks to a generous gift from David T. Zussman, A53, J80P, and his family through the Zussman Fund for Social and Emotional Learning. In addition, The Omidyar Group has provided Tisch College with a $15,000 planning grant to create a 5-year strategic business plan for the initiative, with the goal of maintaining an evolving and financially sustainable program.

The SEL-CE initiative is led by Associate Director Deborah Donahue-Keegan, who is a Lecturer in the Tufts Department of Education. Peter Levine, Tisch College Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, oversees the work of the initiative.

Programs and Activities

In its first year, the initiative’s primary activity has been a year-long Faculty Development Program. Launched in May with a two-day institute, the Tisch SEL-CE Faculty Fellows program aims to help Tufts faculty develop: 1) a deep understanding of the vital role of social-emotional learning to cultural competence and civic engagement; 2) a strong commitment to integrate SEL into their Tufts courses; and 3) the social-emotional skills needed to efficaciously engage in and promote constructive dialogue with students and colleagues, both for faculty members' professional development and for the benefit of student learning in the classroom. As the SEL-CE Faculty Fellows program continues beyond this pilot stage, the Tisch SEL-CE Initiative looks forward to partnering more substantively with Tufts Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) in order to deepen and expand offerings. Read more about the program.

Tufts faculty and staff at racial literacy trainingOther activities throughout the 2017-2018 academic year included:

  • Bringing Theory to Practice Conference – On May 24-26, a group of Tufts University faculty members, students, and administrators involved with the SEL-CE initiative participated in The Whole Student: Intersectionality and Well-Being, the 2017 Bringing Theory to Practice Conference. Their panel, “Civic Engagement, Intersectionality & Well-Being in Higher Education: The Vital Role of Social-Emotional Learning/Development,” was attended by close to 200 conference attendees.
  • Mindfulness in Education Conference – On June 16-17, the initiative co-sponsored the Mindfulness in Education (MiEN) annual conference, held at Tufts University. SEL-CE Associate Director Deborah Donahue-Keegan facilitated a workshop titled “Fostering Intellectual Agility and Constructive Dialogue in the Higher Education Classroom: the vital role of contemplative pedagogy.”
  • Teacher Education Institute – The initiative’s Associate Director, Deborah Donahue-Keegan, and Laura Rogers, interim Director of the Tufts Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) secondary-level program, are participating in a yearlong institute on Social-Emotional Development and Culturally Responsive Teaching from the Center for Reaching & Teaching the Whole Child.
  • Dialogues in the Tufts Community – In partnership with Essential Partners and the Tisch College Dialogue Fellows Program led by Jonathan Garlick, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Civic Science, the initiative is hosting a series of dialogues with students, faculty, and staff. This work is supported by a Bringing Theory to Practice Campus Dialogue Grant.
  • Panel on DACA Students – On November 21, the SEL-CE initiative joined with the Tufts Department of Education, the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and the Tisch College Dialogue Fellows Program to host a panel and small group dialogues for pre-service pre-service teachers, school psychologists, and area educators titled “DACA: Supporting Educators to Address the Educational and Social-Emotional Needs of Students and Families."
  • Finding the Courage to Engage in Racial Dialogue: Healing Trauma through Racial Literacy Racial Literacy – The Tisch SEL-CE Initiative Is joining Eliot-Pearson Department Of Child Study and Human Development as a co-sponsor of this December 2017 workshop (separately offered for Tufts faculty, students, and staff) led By Howard Stevenson, Executive Director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative and Professor of Urban Education and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information about the Tisch SEL-CE initiative, email, Deborah Donahue-Keegan, Associate Director, at