Office of Community Relations hires co-director, expands scope to include SMFA neighborhoods

When Tufts acquired the School of the Museum of Fine Arts on July 1, 2016, the staff at Tufts’ Office of Community Relations knew that they would need to build positive relationships with Boston’s Mission Hill and The Fenway neighborhoods, where the SMFA at Tufts is located.

The Office of Community Relations, which works to develop and maintain relationships with each Tufts campus’ host community, therefore decided to expand the size of its office by hiring a co-director, according to Mary Jeka, senior vice president for university relations and general counsel.

“We decided that maintaining good relations with all of these communities required another director who would focus on managing relations in the communities of Medford and Fenway/Mission Hill,” Jeka told the Daily in an email. “Maintaining strong relationships with our host communities is a high priority for Tufts, and the Office of Community Relations takes the lead in working with our local communities.”

Prior to July 1, Tufts’ host communities included Medford and Somerville, Grafton, Mass., and Boston’s Chinatown, which each host a Tufts campus.

Previously, Barbara Rubel had been the sole director of the Office of Community Relations, in charge of managing Tufts’ relations with Medford, Somerville and Chinatown, according to Jeka. She added that community relations on the Grafton campus was and still is primarily overseen by Dr. Deborah Kochevar, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, due to her greater proximity to the Grafton community. 

Jeka explained that the Office of Community Relations underwent a reorganization after Susan Fuller-DeAmato, who had been the assistant director of community relations at Tufts, left her position in February 2016.

The search for a co-director began in spring 2016, shortly after Fuller-DeAmato’s departure, when Jeka and Rubel began reviewing applications for the position, Jeka said. This search ended in August when they selected Rocco DiRico as the top candidate for the job.

DiRico, now officially co-director of the Office of Community Relations, brings with him experience in government and community relations, having worked with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) for the past 15 years, according to Jeka. This work involved direct contact with elected officials and Markey’s constituents, experience that DiRico believes will help him in his new position.

“I think that my work in constituent services and intergovernmental relations will serve Tufts well by strengthening and reinforcing existing relationships and forging new ones in our communities,” DiRico told the Daily in an email.

Part of DiRico’s job is to determine how best to build and sustain the relationship between the SMFA at Tufts and its surrounding Boston community, Jeka said.

“Each community has distinct issues and needs,” she explained. “[DiRico] will work with local officials, non-profit organizations and residents to better understand how the [SMFA at Tufts] can contribute to the local community.”

She added that the Office of Community Relations has already began to build a relationship with The Fenway and Mission Hill neighborhoods through supporting Mission Main Family Fun Day, a free, public, family-friendly community celebration that took place in August.

In the new arrangement of the Office of Community Relations, DiRico manages relations with Medford as well as The Fenway and Mission Hill, and Rubel manages relations with Somerville and Chinatown, DiRico said. Rubel stressed that although he and DiRico are in charge of different neighborhoods, they ultimately work together to strengthen Tufts’ ties to the community and will also collaborate on projects that cross city lines.

“We work very closely together in support of Tufts’ goal of being a good neighbor and resource to our host communities,” he said.

Although the relationship between Tufts and its local communities may sometimes encounter difficulties, DiRico said he hopes to continue to work with Tufts’ neighbors on any issues that arise.

“Our office is constantly working to build, maintain and cultivate our community relationships on a variety of issues,” DiRico said. “Through constant collaboration with our host communities, we hope to find new, creative ways to address these important issues [such as gentrification].”

In addition to supporting events such as Mission Main Family Fun Day, the Office of Community Relations aims to strengthen communication with Tufts’ neighbors through social media. Rubel and DiRico are working to increase the office’s social media presence, having created a Facebook page for the department over the summer, DiRico said.

Rubel hopes that keeping community members informed about happenings at Tufts will facilitate their involvement.

“One of our major goals is to continue informing and engaging more of our neighbors so they are aware of Tufts’ good work in the community, participate in our programs and take advantage of the many resources available to them,” she told the Daily in an email.

DiRico believes that Tufts is in a unique position to enact positive change both in local communities and beyond.

“Tufts is a world-renowned leader in higher education. It attracts talented students, faculty and staff from across the globe,” he said. “I think an important part of Tufts’ role in Medford, Somerville and Boston is to be an engine for good, both at home and globally.”

Ultimately, DiRico said, the Office of Community Relations reflects Tufts’ mission to encourage active civic life by building connections to the outside community.

“Tufts embraces and promotes civic life, and we take that responsibility seriously, as evidenced by all of the many ways in which we support our host communities,” DiRico said.