Student Affairs Pluralism Initiatives engage students in exploring identity

11/10/15 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Director of the Student Affairs Pluralism Initiative Steph Gauchel poses outside the Women's Center on Nov. 10, 2015. (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily)

The Student Affairs Pluralism Initiatives, which works with Tufts students in identity and social justice leadership development, held a panel event about faith and colonialism on Monday evening.

Director of Student Affairs Pluralism Initiatives Steph Gauchel, who works with the Group of Six and Social Justice Leadership Initiative (SJLI) in her role, said the event was one of several semester projects meant to engage students in exploring issues surrounding identity, which include a field trip held last month to the New York Botanical Garden, panel discussions and the introduction of a film series. 

The Nov. 9 event, entitled “Questions of Faith: Religion, Diasporas and Colonialism,” focused on how diasporas and colonialism, migration and oppression, have influenced religion in America. A panel of professors from Connecticut College, Harvard Divinity School and Brown University, along with Cambridge Reverend Irene Monroe, discussed the subject.

“[The panel discussed] the ways in which marginalized peoples have retooled and/or rejected the impact of colonialism and missionary activity in past and current social movements of survival, resistance and social justice,” Gauchel told the Daily in an email.

Monday’s panel was just one of many of the Pluralism Initiatives’ current plans. Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon explained that she started the pluralism program last year in order to create an intentionally inclusive environment for all Tufts students.

“The idea was to look at intersectional identities [and] intergroup dialogue, and that really is what this is about, too,” she said.

According to McMahon, the pluralism initiatives were created to revisit the Intercultural Social Identities Program, which was introduced by former School of Arts and Sciences Dean Joanne Berger-Sweeney, to collaborate with the Group of Six on campus policy concerning inclusion, student retention and equal participation. 

“For me, it’s about creating an intentionally inclusive environment for all students at Tufts,” she said.

Gauchel explained that through the pluralism initiatives program, she was also able to take more than 100 students to the New York Botanical Garden on Oct. 24 and 25 to see the “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” exhibition, curated by Tufts art and art history professor Adriana Zavala.

Additionally, Gauchel is currently helping to coordinate a new faculty-new students of color mentor program run by the Office of Student Affairs. She is also organizing a Nov. 16 film screening and discussion of “This May Be The Last Time,” (2014) as a part of the Dean of Student Affairs 2015-2016 film series. 

“This film connects to themes of [Monday’s] panel and explores the history of [Creek Nation] Native American hymns,” Gauchel said.

Gauchel, who is also the director of the Women’s Center, said she supports SJLI and the Group of Six by assembling Group of Six standing meetings and serving as a member of Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas’ Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, which is meant to assess strategies for helping the university support diversity and inclusion on campus. 

“My aim is to help with university-wide communication and response efforts related to identity-based issues that impact our centers individually, collectively and/or intersectionality, while also highlighting the individual and collective work of the Group of Six and SJLI,” she told the Daily in an email.

According to Rubén Salinas Stern, the director of the Latino Center, Gauchel’s work fosters coordination between the Dean of Student Affairs and the Group of Six, which also includes the Latino Center.

He added that the Student Affairs Pluralism Initiatives are still a work in progress, so the Group of Six cannot yet comprehend the full scope of the position. For now, Gauchel serves as a vital link between the Group of Six centers and the Dean of Student Affairs, while helping plan events that are relevant to the Group of Six’s missions, Stern said.

“It’s not just the programming, it’s that we’re represented in a variety of committees,” he said.

Gauchel said she hopes to continue using her role to create opportunities and events to engage students

“[I want] to continue to increase co-curricular opportunities for students to engage in education and programming related to diversity, pluralism, social justice and intersectionality,” she said.