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Diversity Council final report demonstrates commitment to financial aid, inclusion

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 08:02

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Anne Wermiel / Tufts Daily Archives


 

Through its admission outreach, Tufts has worked to brand itself as a community diverse in more ways than one. Through its Council on Diversity, the Tufts administration has taken steps to ensure that the university’s reputation of commitment to diversity is a reality.

On Dec. 5, 2013, the Council on Diversity released its final report. Formally launched in March 2012, the Council spent over a year researching both the compositional diversity of the university and the campus climate toward inclusion. The report found that a commitment to a “campus climate that fosters diversity” was a common theme across campuses and produced recommendations for how each one can improve.

Though the Council’s research relied heavily on numerical data, it also conducted campus surveys and discussion groups in order to determine student opinions regarding diversity at Tufts. The Council organized three working groups that examined the university experience at the the undergraduate, graduate and administrative levels.

Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Global Health at the School of Medicine Dr. Joyce Sackey chaired the Graduate and Professional Student Experience Working Group and commented on the process.

“We combed through reams and reams ... of data,” Sackey said. “While Tufts is, in general, a welcoming place and actually has diversity as one of its expressed values in its mission statement, we could do a better job of increasing ... compositional diversity.”

While she emphasized the importance of compositional diversity in admissions practices, Sackey said that it is equally important to ensure that students feel supported by the university once they are here.

“It isn’t enough to just bring people here in numbers,” she said. “You need to create an environment where they all thrive — [where] each student, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, family of origin ... would feel supported, respected and ... like they could succeed here.”

Sackey noted that the university can learn from the Tufts LGBTQ community, which reported a high approval rate of their support structures in a survey.

“One group that appears to be feeling supported and ... satisfied [is] the students in the LGBTQ community,” she said. “That’s a group that we should study more in terms of what kinds of structures we have in place that make [LGBTQ students] feel supported and welcome when they come to Tufts.”

The Council is committed to increasing access to financial aid. In order to do so, the university established the Financial Aid Initiative in 2012 with the goal of raising $25 million in financial aid endowment — a goal that is to be matched by $25 million from unrestricted university funds. The initiative has already raised $22 million, according to a Dec. 5, 2013 TuftsNow article.

Another focus of the report is the addition of a Chief Diversity Officer, who will work under the Office of the Provost to oversee the implementation of the Council’s other proposals. Special Advisor to the Provost and Interim Dean of Tisch College Nancy Wilson is serving as head of the search committee for this new administrative position.

Wilson explained that the Chief Diversity Officer would be a part of  the Council on Diversity and would be charged with creating a separate coordinating committee, which would deal with the “how-to” of implementing the recommendations outlined in the report.

“The diversity coordinating committee ... will really build a community of practice,” Wilson said. “It’s important to think of how [the Chief Diversity Officer] will actually get their job done.”

Wilson stated that she hopes the position can be filled before the end of this academic year. In order to do so, the university will hire a search firm to help refine the job description and narrow down the list of potential candidates.

“We’ve been interviewing several of those firms,” Wilson said. “They will work with us to finalize not only the job description — which is what this person will actually be doing — but also the position description, which is: ‘What’s the context for this? What are the expectations and why is the university doing this?’ Then, they will work with us to identify candidates.”

Adriana Zavala, an associate professor of art and art history, who chaired the Council on Diversity and headed the Undergraduate Student Experience Working Group, underscored the Council’s commitment to expanding financial aid. She noted that there is room for improvement. 

“Increasing our financial aid budget and using funds to ensure that all students have equal access to the opportunities a Tufts education offers is an important challenge,” Zavala wrote in an email to the Daily. “[University President Anthony Monaco] has made significant progress in fundraising, but more work still needs to be done. I am inspired by how seriously President Monaco takes this issue [and by] what he has accomplished already in raising funds to increase the financial aid budget.”

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