Tisch College offers Tisch Civic Studies courses

Yale Law Professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. discusses the roots of mass incarceration in the United States during a Tufts University Prison Initiative at the Tisch College of Civic Life (TUPIT) event in Alumnae Lounge on Sept. 21. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

As announced in April 2016, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, was renamed the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. The name change was one effort Tisch College made to focus its mission towards civic engagement as a way to combat a “broken” democracy. Another step is taking shape in a variety of courses now listed under Tisch Civic Studies. Bringing together courses from a variety of departments such as Child Study and Human Development, Film and Media Studies as well as Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, Tisch Civic Studies bring together courses at Tufts in hopes of making civic studies more accessible to students.

Piloted during the fall semester with nine courses offered, this coming spring semester 14 courses listed under Tisch Civic studies will be offered, according to SIS. The courses range in topic from science and the human experience to children and mass media, to mass incarceration and the literature of confinement.

Many of the courses have been offered in previous semesters, but with the new designation within Tisch Civic Studies, they have a clearer emphasis on civic engagement according to Special Projects Administrator of Tisch College Jessica Byrnes. She said that the Tisch Civic Studies has been in the works for a long time, as it is challenging to create a new designation for courses.

As a Tufts graduate herself with a degree in peace and justice studies, Byrnes is jealous of the opportunities current students now have to explore what Tisch College has to offer.

“I’m excited for students who are already interested in these subjects to have a tool to help them easily find these courses,” Byrnes said. “I’m even more excited for students who have never thought about civic studies to have a really easy way for them find out more about it in a way that is compelling.”

Associate Dean for Programs and Administration Diane Ryan commented on how these courses will help increase the reach of Tisch College.

“The best way to increase the impact of those areas is to offer academic courses where you have theory and content. Then you can go have experiences to make that content come alive, and we have research to show that those things work,” Ryan said. “It’s very complementary.”

When asked about what this new designation meant for Tisch College as a whole, Ryan linked it with general growth. Along with this new academic initiative, Tisch College has reconstituted its faculty, now employing senior fellows who are subject matter experts and well known in their respective fields. The idea for a potential Tisch Civic Studies major is on the table, but its path is unclear.

“There are definitely hopes to strengthen the academic standing of Tisch College, whether that results in a major is the great unknown right now. But if you think about Tufts, and its brand of responsible and active citizenship, it would make sense that might be a direction,” Ryan said.

The growth of Tisch College cannot be accredited just to their own efforts. Byrnes was sure to share her appreciation to the university.

“[I am grateful to Tufts] for recognizing the academic stature and importance of civic studies as its own field and that Tisch College is a leader in civic studies,” she said. “It is making the argument that civic education is not just a nice thing but that it’s critical, critical to restoring our democracy and the institutions in this country and to giving that academic stature.”

The overarching goal of these courses — which Ryan articulated as to increase the knowledge, skills and disposition of people toward leading a more civically engaged life — is well encapsulated by the course science and the human experience taught by Jonathan Garlick. Garlick is a Tisch College senior fellow for civic science as well as a professor at the Tufts School of Dental Medicine, the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering.

Garlick’s course allows students to find their voice through discussion of scientific and ethical issues such as the opioid crisis, the vaccine debate and abortion debate.

“The goal of the course is through the lens of [divisiveness] and polarizing science issues, we ask three questions: Who am I? What do I care about the most? What are we going to do about that?” Garlick said. “And when the students reflect deeply on those three questions, they accomplish the goal of the course which is to find their voice in the science conversation through a personal way. Then you connect that so that they can make well informed, personal, civic choices in their lives.”

Garlick is embedding civic studies and civic engagement into his course, a necessity for the Tisch Civic Studies courses according to Byrnes. For Garlick’s course specifically, science is correlated with civic engagement. He describes himself as a scientist in society, meaning that his work has great importance outside of the lab. Garlick hopes to demonstrate what this means through discussion and debate.

“We face a challenging time and in the challenging time we face, the landscape of discourse … is broken,” he said. “By coming together, by sharing a communal learning experience that allows people to reflect on their values and choices that emanate from those values, people can connect those values to their civic choices which are really important as they see themselves as citizens, community members [and] people that live in public spaces.”

With his course now listed as a Tisch Civic Studies course, Garlick says that a voice is given to the civic component of his course. He described this component of civic science as students connect science issues with their civic lives and choices.

“Tisch College is the perfect place to do this because students can take this knowledge and understanding beyond the classroom and think about what it means in their democracy, their community and act on it,” he said.

In a world that is increasingly divided, Garlick believes that Tisch College and the courses listed under Tisch Civic Studies provide a space for students to learn how to engage in discussion about difficult issues while gaining respect for diverse points of view.

“We take these science issues which are complex, which are uncertain and which are divisive, and Tisch College gives us a place where we can unravel the complexity,” Garlick said. “We can confront the uncertainty, and we can build bridges across these divisive issues so that we can be better informed citizens.”