Students low on patience with stagnation on diversity program
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 02:03
Last spring, a major breakthrough in the decades-long push for a presence in the university’s curriculum of issues of identity and diversity arrived on the Hill: A new program called Critical Studies in Disparities and Diasporas (C2D), had been envisioned, was set in motion and was slated to serve as an umbrella program for an Africana studies major and minor, an Asian American studies minor and further identity-related studies.
The push for this program was largely a student-led movement, drawing support from such activist groups as Pan-African Alliance (PAA). As a result of over a year of student demands backed up by a history of Africana studies-related activism dating back to the 1970s, a working group on comparative race and ethnicity studies was created with four student representatives, as well as faculty members including Professor of Biology Francie Chew and Professor of History Peniel Joseph. The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate chose two student representatives, and two were appointed by PAA.
“I remember being pretty optimistic at the end of the year,” former TCU Senate President Tomas Garcia (A ’12), who was an original member of the working group, said. “I didn’t think it was ‘mission accomplished, job well done’—there were clearly going to be a lot of tough conversations ahead, and a lot more discussions on the horizon — but I thought that it had been set on a path that would lead somewhere, and would lead to tangible results for the students.”
According to PAA co-president Jameelah Morris, the feeling of progress sparked by the creation of an Africana studies major and minor and an Asian American Studies minor has this year come to a halt, with no next step in sight after two major adminstrative and faculty contacts for the working group — Chew and Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney — stepped away from the working group and, to Morris’ knowledge, essentially disbanded it.
“Last year was really big, as far as communication,” Morris, a senior, said. “There were minor issues, as far as when the working group would be able to go to faculty meetings, but for the most part communication was very open and, that hasn’t continued this year.
“At the beginning of last semester, Dean Berger-Sweeney told us that there wouldn’t be students on the working group and that she had kind of washed her hands of the entire thing ... Unfortunately the working group has become almost dysfunctional,” she added.
Berger-Sweeney declined to comment for this article, and several current and former faculty members on the working group either also declined to comment or were unavailable.
That two of working group’s key faculty representatives, Joseph and Professor of Anthropology Deborah Pacini, have gone on sabbatical contributed to the complications.
“Last semester was trying to get students back on the working group after we had been kicked off without notice,” Morris said. “The only reason we found out was because we inquired about what was going on, what was scheduled for the year, what was planned — and nothing. Everybody kept giving us the run-around.”
Marcy Regalado, who now serves as the community representative for the Latino Center to the Senate and the youngest original member of the working group, emphasized the importance of keeping students in the know with this massive undertaking.
“Something that frustrates me is that the minute that you take a student voice out of a conversation that will affect students, you shouldn’t be having that conversation,” Marcy, a sophomore said. “There needs to be student input regardless of what step you’re at in a process.”
“There will be questions that [administrators] don’t think about, that other students will ask them anyway,” she said. “So if the faculty or [administrators] are making drastic changes — like bringing up a program or implementing new majors — and not having student input, then that’s going to set them back because they’re going to have to take it back and work on it again.”
Morris said the disconnect in communication has slowed down her commitment to seeing Africana Studies become well-established before she graduates in May.
The most recent push for an Africana studies presence in the university’s curriculum was fueled by a student occupation of Ballou Hall last year, during which roughly 60 students occupied Berger-Sweeney’s office to demand action.
The sit-in ended when Berger-Sweeney, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President Peggy Newell and President Anthony Monaco entered negotiations with the students and signed a set of agreements.
The compromise also promised students updates on the progress of Berger-Sweeney’s five initiatives to foster diversity.
“In realizing that that the umbrella program was going to happen ... we wanted to make sure that we were involved in it and that it comes out to be something important,” Morris said.