With a new name and structure, SURGE hopes to engage more students

The China-U.S. Symposium recently changed its name to Sino-U.S. Relations Group Engagement (SURGE) to encompass the group's goal of working with more topics. Christie Wu / The Tufts Daily

In a move to expand the group and foster more conversation, this year the China-U.S. Symposium has changed its name to the Sino-U.S. Relations Group Engagement (SURGE). According to first-year Winnona DeSombre, a member of the group, the symposium was originally part of the Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and Services (ALLIES), but recently broke off to establish its own identity as SURGE.

“The China-U.S. Symposium is something we still do,” Deputy Director of SURGE Joe Mark, a senior, said. “But it doesn’t encapsulate everything the group’s about … so we wanted to add to it.”

In the past the group has solely focused on the symposium, which is “a two-and-a-half day academic conference that aims to foster relations between the two countries and increase awareness of the importance of working with China to address global problems,” according to the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University (IGL) website. This year the group is seeking to expand its mission and engage more people in the topic through more planned activities, according to Director of SURGE Sean Gunn.

“In the past … we’ve been focused very much on creating the symposium itself … but we’ve shifted this year,” Gunn, a senior, said. “We still do the symposium, but we also want people to be engaged in the topics and feel like they have some knowledge about the topics, that they can talk about what they’re interested in, rather than coming in and just planning an event that’s done.”

In order to enact this change, Gunn and Mark have been hard at work planning weekly discussion groups, bringing in speakers and working toward the spring symposium at Tufts. This past week the group brought in Kathleen DeBoer, the deputy head of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in Washington, D.C.

According to Gunn, DeBoer has taught and lived in China on two occasions, once in the early ’90s and once in the past five years. With her experience living and working in China, DeBoer was able to share her insights with the group.

“She was able to give us this very interesting talk about the way she’s seen, especially the culture change between the times she was there,” Gunn said. “What she did really well was she brought it down to a human level.”

Mark considered the event a success and noted the high attendance.

“We had, I think, 30 or 40 people come to that,” Mark said. “[It was] a good way to give more people insights into the topic and give them more ownership of it.”

The group, under adviser Michael Beckley, associate professor of political science, attracts many international relations, political science and economics students, as well as other students who are involved with Tufts in China, according to Mark and Gunn.

DeSombre has been a part of this shift in the group’s structure, heading her own event called the U.S.-China Culture Panel. For this event the group is talking to students from different backgrounds, including students from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, who have seen different sides of Sino-U.S. relations in terms of everyday life, DeSombre said. Come November, the group will have a discussion about their findings.

As a new member of SURGE, DeSombre has taken on plenty of responsibility and serves on the group’s executive board. When she matriculated this fall, DeSombre was already deeply invested in the topic of Sino-U.S. Relations.

“I’ve always been interested in Sino-U.S. relations,” DeSombre said. “Growing up in Hong Kong and being an American, I’ve been invested on both sides of the politics.”

With a solid foundation and great plans in the works, DeSombre expressed enthusiasm about the group’s progress and future.

“I like the fact that [the group] is expanding, and I really like the fact that we are bringing these speakers in to become more of a niche part of Tufts,” she said. “The members of exec board are very much committed to getting a lot of stuff done.”

As seniors, part of Gunn and Mark’s inspiration behind this commitment is a hope to establish a group that exists beyond their graduation in May. One of the ways they hope to accomplish this is by building a sustainable group and teaching students how to keep it going. They have also altered the group’s planning structure to place more responsibility on each member, enabling them to coordinate their own events or pieces of the symposium.

“Our main goal is to build something that’s actually going to last,” Mark said. “Everything we’re doing this year has an eye towards next year in that we’re both seniors … so the more we can build and establish this year, the better it’s going to last going forward.”

DeSombre also remarked on the unique existence of the newly formed group.

“Because SURGE just broke off from ALLIES, it’s a fairly new organization in terms of its name, but we’re lucky that it still has the old foundations of the old structure,” DeSombre said. “It really helps to get things done.”