The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life celebrated its 20th anniversary this spring, commemorating the statement of purpose signing on April 21, 2000 which created the college dedicated to civic engagement.
Tisch College intended on celebrating the anniversary throughout the calendar year 2020 but has since postponed it due to the closure of campus in March caused by COVID-19, according to Director of Communications, Strategy and Planning at Tisch College Jennifer McAndrew.
Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont (A’70) said that he was present when Tisch College was conceived. Although the university has long maintained its commitment to civic engagement, it was unusual at the time to create a college with a dean around that concept.
“It just seemed like this would be a great opportunity to celebrate the work Tisch College has done, and the impact that it’s had on the university,” Solomont said. “We wanted to use this anniversary as a way of focusing the attention on what’s been accomplished and what’s been done.”
McAndrew said that many anniversary events are expected to be extended through the next academic year due to the shortened spring semester. One of the most memorable events that occurred this semester was the move to Barnum Hall from Lincoln-Filene Hall, which was celebrated on Jan. 24 with a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony.
McAndrew explained that a celebratory dinner was also supposed to be held on April 16 at Gifford House, honoring 20 leaders who have shaped 20 years of Tisch College. Like many other events, it has been postponed. She said they are working on producing videos about Tisch College’s impact and are planning a big speaker event in the fall.
“All of our [current] distinguished speaker events are going to be co-branded as part of the 20th anniversary,” McAndrew said. “I think all of those events will be part of the celebration, and I would expect, whenever we’re back together in the fall, that we would plan to have a lot of those events focused around the election because our assumption is that it was and is going to be a big topic, given where we are in the world and [with] COVID-19.”
Solomont said he thinks the move to Barnum Hall was Tisch College’s biggest single event of this semester.
“It was just an idea without a roadmap 20 years ago, it was much smaller than it is now,” Solomont said. “So moving into Barnum and moving into this iconic building with the elephant in front … [it] was a big deal.”
Solomont added that every Tisch College event has been used to tell the story of its 20th anniversary, from the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series beginning in fall 2019 to the creation of a campaign course focused on the 2020 election provided by the college over winter break.
This past academic year, Tisch College also launched the Center for State Policy Analysis to focus on state-level policymaking, and hosted U.S. Rep. Will Hurd at an event on Sept. 6. Some of Tisch College’s distinguished speakers this year included Cyntoia Brown-Long, a criminal justice reform advocate who spoke on March 5, and Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, who visited Tufts on Nov. 7.
According to McAndrew, Tisch College was planning on holding anniversary events during the 2020 commencement ceremony, such as honoring the inductees to the Honos Civicus Society, Tisch College’s civic engagement honors society, holding a family brunch for the students and families involved in Tisch College and celebrating the winners of the Presidential Award for Civic Life. Although the events will be included as parts of the virtual degree conferral, Tisch College looks forward to celebrating its students when in-person commencement is held.
McAndrew said that Tisch College’s work continues despite the pandemic — especially its research initiatives. Its work has refocused on subjects such as voting by mail and young people’s views of the 2020 election with respect to COVID-19 response.
“The research is really important right now given that young people are now scattered all over the country,” she said. “Just keeping on top of that and being able to be flexible and fast-moving and adapt our research agenda is something that we’re really proud of that Tisch College has been able to do.”
Solomont explained that Tisch College, founded as the University College for Citizenship and Public Service, was initially an experiment, with Tufts being one of the earlier universities to start thinking about the civic responsibilities of higher education. The college has since expanded its research activities and is able to influence ideas around civic engagement and political participation, and it is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Tufts.
“I don’t think there’s another university in the country where this mission is as important to the culture of the university, the mission generally of preparing students for civic life,” Solomont said. “It has flourished in ways we had never imagined.”