Tisch College reaffirms stance against racism, creates new first-year course, webinar series

Tisch College of Civic Life at Barnum Hall is pictured on Aug. 28. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

Dean Alan Solomont (A’70) released a statement on July 16 outlining the steps the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life is taking to combat racism, including a new first-year course, webinar series and the sponsor of research in different focus areas. The statement follows a letter sent to the Tisch College community on June 1 condemning the recent acts of racial injustice.

Though raising our collective voices for justice is essential, it is not enough,” Solomont wrote in the June 1 letter. “We must take action. Our civic responsibility demands this of us, especially in times of trauma and struggle.”

Some of Tisch College’s initiatives include doubling the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement to allot half of the grant money to students who are specifically doing anti-racist work, according to Solomont.

We especially encourage students to apply for funding that will support projects related to racial justice,” Tisch College’s website states. 

Tisch College also conducted an eight-week virtual webinar during the summer, titled “Navigating the Pandemic,” which had sessions devoted to issues of inequity, race and racial injustice, according to Solomont. 

Solomont enthusiastically praised students who have participated in Tisch College’s initiatives, saying they reflect the institution’s goals.

I think that [Tisch College] has been a place that students have come to who believe in social justice, who believe in fighting institutional racism and have used some of the work they do at Tisch to act upon those beliefs,” Solomont said.

Tisch College has also worked alongside Tufts’ School of Medicine to expand the graduate school’s Common Book program. This year, they chose Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” (2018).

The book is intended to be read by all medical school faculty, staff and incoming students, according to Jessica Byrnes, the program administrator at Tisch College. In prior years, the selected book was only chosen for first-year medical students to read, according to Byrnes. 

There will also be a virtual event with the author later this fall that will be hosted through Tisch College’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Byrnes noted that the unique circumstances this fall have increased the number of events and speakers.

I think we have never had this many speakers or events in one semester before, so I’m excited for … just how many different experts we have who are going to speak on different topics,Byrnes said.

She added that Tisch College will evaluate its own administrative system. 

“… Within our own institution, [we are] looking at our own hiring processes, job descriptions … [and] seeing what we can be doing more to be a more anti-racist institution,” Byrnes said. 

In an email to the Daily, Peter Levine, associate dean of academic affairs, wrote that a new course called Civic Pathways has been created this fall for first-year students. 

Multiple departments are collaborating with Tisch College on the one-semester-hour unit course, which will act as an orientation to civic engagement at Tufts, according to Levine.

Byrnes explained that the course will emphasize civic skills and agency and added that it will be a unifying experience for first-years coming to Tufts in an entirely new environment.

Tisch College’s anti-racist initiatives also include the recent work done by its research institutions, namely the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) and the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education (IDHE)

The IDHE published an updated guidebook this year called “Election Imperatives 2020: A Time of Physical Distancing and Social Action,” which is about the role of COVID-19 and its subsequent effects on electoral participation.

Similarly, CIRCLE conducted a poll of 18 to 29-year-olds in June to look at how young people differ among races and ethnicities in terms of their attitudes toward voting, according to Solomont. 

The CIRCLE poll identified that affordable and accessible health care, climate and racism are the top three issues for young people, according to Solomont. He underlined that this is representative of a larger movement.

“This is the first time I think racism as an issue has risen to the top of the list that way and [it] speaks to what we’re living through,” Solomont said. 

He indicated that he was impressed by the positive responses he received after issuing a statement about anti-racist actions at Tisch College. 

Many students applied for grants, registered for the first-year course and participated in the Common Book program.

“I’m hoping that Tisch will be one of several places at the university where students and faculty feel that the university is not just talking the talk but walking the walk,” he said.