Tisch College releases Distinguished Speaker Series lineup

Tisch College shot at sunset on Feb. 13, 2018. (Ben Kim /Tufts Daily Archives)

Former Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Donna Brazile, former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and interfaith leader Eboo Patel will speak at Tufts University this semester as part of Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series. According to the Tisch College website, Brazile will speak on Feb. 5, Flake will speak on March 11 and Patel will speak on April 1 as a joint initiative with the University Chaplaincy.

According to Jennifer McAndrew, the director of communications, strategy and planning at Tisch College, the events will not be ticketed. She added that RSVPs are strongly encouraged for planning purposes.

Special Projects Administrator at Tisch College Jessica Byrnes said that all of the events will be live-streamed and uploaded to YouTube for those unable to attend. Byrnes noted an important aspect of the Distinguished Speaker Series is to encourage community engagement and dialogue.

“One way we’ve done that is to sort of allow students and other community members to talk about what they’re hearing from the speaker during the event using, [for example], #JeffFlakeAtTufts and after the event as well,” Byrnes said. “It’s also a good way to hear from other students who might not want to ask a question during the event but have an important thought that they want to voice.”

In an email statement to the Daily, Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont noted the varied professional backgrounds of the speakers.

“Taken as a group, they represent leadership in the non-profit world, public service, politics, the faith community and the arts,” he said. “We welcome everyone’s participation in what I hope is an ongoing conversation about the state of our civic life in 2019.”

According to McAndrew, the Distinguished Speaker Series was launched in the fall of 2014 with Senator Elizabeth Warren. The series hosts well-known, high-profile speakers on the Tufts campus. Byrnes noted the overarching goals of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

“One is we seek diverse individuals from different walks of life to share insight to the Tufts community and expose students to a range of perspectives different than their own,” Byrnes said. “Second is really to encourage debate on some of today’s most pressing issues. And third is to inspire and educate our students on what it means to be a civic leader.”

McAndrew said a key aspect of the lineup this year is that all of the speakers come from different backgrounds with differing ideologies.

“I think that as usual, the compelling piece of each is that they’re different,” McAndrew said. “That you could ask them all the same one question and they would all have very different answers. And how we think about those answers and knit them together and consider them is something that is an important and unique part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.”

According to Byrnes, Tisch College will partner with the University Chaplaincy to host Patel, who served on former President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as part of the Chaplaincy’s annual Russell Lecture on Spiritual Life. She said that collaborating with other groups on campus is extremely important to Tisch College when planning the Distinguished Speaker Series.

“It’s a chance to work with other groups across campus, support their work as they support ours, and also to share Tisch College’s work and mission with other groups across campus that we may not normally interact with,” Byrnes said.

McAndrew said that having two speakers, Brazile and Flake, on opposite sides of the political aisle will be enlightening for students.

“Donna Brazile had a long career in Democratic politics and I think her thoughts on what happened in 2018, and what that means for 2020 and going forward, will be really interesting to students,” McAndrew said. “She also has an interesting perspective as a black woman in politics and leadership positions, and I hope that we’ll dig into what that experience has been like.”

“And then Jeff Flake, of course, has been a … conservative, libertarian, someone who definitely clashed with President Trump and is sort of known for that in recent years … So we’re interested in exploring that with students as well.”

Byrnes added that Tisch College takes speaker suggestions from members of the Tufts community.

McAndrew said to expect more events and speakers as the semester progresses.

“You hear … about someone who might be coming to town, we can try to jump on these opportunities … We have the ability to do pop-up events and we expect that students will see a couple of those this semester,” McAndrew said.

Tisch College’s events and speakers, including the Distinguished Speaker Series, are listed under “News and Events” on the Tisch College website.

“We’re really excited for this semester and we hope as many folks as possible in the Tufts community come out and join us and be part of the conversation,” Byrnes concluded.