The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life announced their spring 2022 Susan and Alan Solomont Distinguished Speaker Series lineup on Feb. 4, featuring U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, Senator Tim Scott and more slated to give their perspectives on the future of American politics.
Dean of Tisch College Dayna Cunningham believes the variety and experience these speakers offer will help Jumbos better understand the current state of democracy in the U.S. and around the world.
“We’ve all seen the important and necessary preoccupation with the frailty of democratic institutions right now,” Cunningham said. “So what we’re doing with the speaker series is making that [an] urgently relevant topic, kind of bringing it right to the campus with people who are on the frontlines of questions related to that.”
Along with U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, whose district includes parts of Somerville, this spring’s speakers include U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio (A’69) of Oregon, Massachusetts state representative Tram Nguyen (A’08) and Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
The search process for Tisch speakers is time consuming and complicated. Jennifer McAndrew, the director of communications, strategy and planning at Tisch College, said that once the Tisch staff decides on a speaker to invite, it may take months or years to get them to campus.
“We can be cultivating speakers anywhere from a month to 24 months out,” McAndrew said. “The way we announced it … looks like ‘Oh, those are the people they invited and here they are.’ No, that could have been the people we invited a year ago and they just couldn’t be here during the semester, or they couldn’t make it work or we didn’t have a response in time.”
Jessica Byrnes, communications program manager at Tisch College, said a particularly noteworthy upcoming event is the virtual Civic Life Lunch highlighting the work of the Climate Music Project, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to inspire action by composing music about climate change.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Tisch College events will include in-person programming. Nguyen’s Civic Life Lunch, for example, will be an in-person event at Barnum Hall, capped at 45 people for health and safety reasons. Many events will remain virtual, however, with some in-person events offering a virtual option to those who cannot attend in person.
McAndrew said that safety concerns and convenience for some speakers influenced the decision to have mixed in-person and virtual programming.
“We are intentionally starting out with some of our smaller events in person and then as the semester moves on is when some of the bigger events are in person,” McAndrew said.
Byrnes reflected on the increased accessibility and turnout due to virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think one of the silver linings to being virtual from an event standpoint for the past two years is we saw pretty amazing engagement that we might not have had in person; we saw parents tuning in from different countries all over the world,” Byrnes said. “We’re really thinking about ‘How do we make our programming more accessible?’
Cunningham hopes these speakers will encourage students to challenge their perspectives and engage in deep discussions about modern politics.
“I like to say that Tisch is democracy’s house on campus,” Cunningham said. “Democracy actually means debating different and sometimes conflicting interests and holding that within the sturdy house.”
Cunningham stressed Tufts’ commitment to strengthening civic discourse on campus by hosting speakers with a diverse range of views.
“In a country as diverse and as complex as ours, we have to be able to hear different perspectives and respect them and engage with them and learn from them,” Cunningham said.