Center for the Study of Race and Democracy launches this semester
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 01:10
After its establishment in the spring of 2012, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) is officially being launched this semester.
The CSRD is largely an outgrowth and expansion of the annual Barack Obama and American Democracy conference (BOAD), hosted alternately by Arizona State University and Tufts since 2010, according to Professor of History and CSRD founder Peniel Joesph.
“The proposal for the center really talked about making it a research center that would serve as a clearinghouse for research-based and intellectually driven conversation about issues of race and democracy ... at the local, national [and] international levels,” Joseph said.
The center’s mission is to promote engaged research, scholarship and discussion with a focus on the ways that issues of race and democracy impact the lives of global citizens. Elissa Bowling, a member of the CSRD working group, explained how the center is different from past discussions about race on campus.
“Being very passionate about race relations is very important, but we are putting an intellectual side to it,” Bowling, a junior, said. “It’s more of an, ‘okay, it’s great that you feel that way, but why do you feel that way; where is it coming from?’”
Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney said she believes that the CSRD is an important addition to the intellectual diversity of Tufts.
“This was just a real sign that we cared about the research in this area,” she said. “And integrating race and ethnicity issues with democracy issues just seemed like a perfect combination for Tufts.”
This year, the CSRD hosted its first National Dialogue on Race Day (NDRD) on Sept. 12 of this year, with the intent of addressing issues of racial disparity and social inequality in contemporary America. Tufts first held the NDRD in 2010, which was then sponsored by the Office of the Provost.
Over 300 attendees, including members of the Greater Boston community, participated in the panel discussion that Joseph facilitated this year.
“It went really well, we brought a lot of folks together,” Joseph said. “There were people there from the Medford community, Somerville, our own campus.”
Other institutions were invited to participate by hosting NDRD events on their own campuses, according to CSRD Staff Assistant Theresa Sullivan (LA ‘12). Some of those institutions included Arizona State University, the NAACP of Boston, Columbia University and Duke University.
Sullivan said the intent of the event was to facilitate a dialogue on a national scale.
“The goal for the NDRD was to make it a truly national initiative, so we invited tons of universities, schools, civic groups, etc. to host their own events around the country — and we’re really hoping those numbers will continue to expand next year,” Sullivan told the Daily.
Some of these events included film screenings, lectures and question and answer sessions. All were loosely structured around the proposed agenda related to promoting public policy transformation of negative racial outcomes like mass incarceration, unemployment and lack of healthcare access.
“The National Dialogue on Race Day was really something to promote public policy transformation,” Joseph said. “How can we use our scholarship and our research to really impact and really read that dialogue in a way that politicians can’t?”
An important goal for Joseph was approaching issues with the mindset that the environment surrounding racial issues can change.
“I think the main takeaway was that dialogue is power — knowledge is power, and I think that we, in terms of pursuing racial justice, need to know that the more we try to talk about race in a proactive way, the better we are,” Joseph said. “I think the more we embrace that, the more we can be proactive and not just reactive when anything happens in terms of racial issues on campus.”
Bryce Turner, a junior who is part of the CSRD working group, said the Tufts community should not be afraid to talk about race.
“I think that a problem in this society is that no one wants to talk about race, but when that happens then nothing can progress,” Turner said. “So, having a National Dialogue on Race Day is kind of like a step towards making it okay to talk about race again.”
The NDRD largely represents the kinds of research-based dialogue the center hopes to promote at Tufts in the future. The CSRD is also providing opportunities for student involvement through the Gerald Gill Fellows program and the CSRD working group.
“As we grow, and we build capacity, getting more resources, more funding ... we have 10 fellows who are graduate students and undergraduate students and they are going to be doing year-long projects,” Joseph said. “Some of them are capstone projects that connect and work with the five projects that the center is doing on mass incarceration, race relations, human rights, Obama and the American presidency and transnational democracy.”
According to Berger-Sweeney, the Gerald Gill program is one of several factors that makes the CSRD unique from other similar centers.
“The fact that as part of this center there is funding for Gerald Gill scholars who will actually go out in the community and continue to make that connection between Tufts and the practice of democracy out in the community will give our center a slightly different focus than any that I know about,” Berger-Sweeney said.
Joseph explained what the course of action will be for the fellows this year.
“The Gerald Gill fellows are doing projects, and [the center] will have a symposium for them in April,” he said. “We will be doing the Barack Obama and American Democracy conference, the fifth conference, April 9 to 11 [in] 2014.”
Some of the upcoming CSRD programming include a screening of the movie “Twelve Years a Slave” (2013) at the Somerville Theatre on Oct. 23, as well as the Gerald Gill keynote lecture by Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. in Cohen Auditorium.