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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Senior Profile: Shaan Merchant

Shaan Merchant poses for a portrait on May 8.

During his four years at Tufts, Shaan Merchant has kept busy. He created his own interdisciplinary studies major in political media, served on the executive board of the Tisch Council for Philanthropic Leadership and worked as a barista at The Rez. Merchant is also a food tour guide for Boston's Little Italy and shares his “why Tufts” as a campus tour guide.

Despite his busy schedule, Merchant said meeting new people always motivates him.

“I am very much a people person. I am one of those people who never needs alone time — I never like to be alone,” Merchant said. “It makes me happy when my presence makes everyone in the room happy and comfortable.”

Merchant said that his outgoing personality comes largely from his childhood spent in Nashville, Tenn., where he was encouraged to be creative and inquisitive.

“I went to a special type of school, also known as the Waldorf School. The school had a huge emphasis on playing outside and being creative, which was a wonderful community for me to explore,” Merchant shared. “Nashville, Tenn. also provided me with open space and freedom to explore and learn both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Though Merchant had initially decided not to apply to Tufts, he ultimately realized that he could nurture his natural sense of exploration and curiosity on this campus.

“Because my sister was going to Tufts, I was not even going to apply to Tufts. I just thought that there is no way I am going to the same school with my sister,” Merchant said. “When I visited Tufts, though, I immediately fell in love with the school ... I had a sense that Tufts is [a] place where people take what they do seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. While people at Tufts [are] really passionate about the work they are doing, they are willing to have fun and laugh at themselves at the same time.”

Merchant said he decided to create his own major in political media while also pursuing a major in Spanish.

“I came to Tufts with no idea about what I was going to major in, so I took a number of courses from different departments. Then I took ‘Media and Society’ in spring [of my first year] with Professor Sarah Sobieraj, who immediately became my mentor ... The class piqued my interests in political science, sociology and [film and media studies]," Merchant shared.

Through his interdisciplinary major in political media, Merchant studied how our implicit and explicit biases play into our everyday media consumption.

“Unless you are watching C-SPAN ... 24/7, every little bit of political information you get from the news is a secondary source,” Merchant said. “So through my major, I wanted to look at how human factors play into media and how we can address these biases that influence our everyday media consumption.”

Having conducted five independent study projects at Tufts, Merchant wrote a thesis that investigated how race and gender play roles among political comedians’ personal and public perception, using the shows hosted by Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee as case studies. As Merchant interned for both “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” and “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah, he was able to tie in his academic and professional experiences into his senior honors thesis.

Merchant noted that as he presented his senior thesis, he realized how much the Tufts community means to him.

“As I was getting ready to present my thesis defense, I started crying because so many of my friends came to watch and support me. I was so grateful to have this supportive and wonderful community at Tufts,” Merchant said. "I just love how friendly and active the community is and how much everyone cares about making Tufts the best space that can be.”

In addition to his academic involvement at Tufts, Merchant has worked with the Tisch Council for Philanthropic Leadership, allocating donations provided by regional philanthropists to advance immigrant and refugee education, environmental justice and women's leadership in the greater Boston area. Merchant also translated Spanish while working on a project that investigated the immigrant workforce in the food industry as a part of his internship for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

As Merchant graduates from Tufts, he hopes to bring his academic and professional experiences together as a production assistant for a food TV show.

For the incoming Class of 2023, Merchant advised to look for “open doors” and to “talk to the professors” to make best out of their four years at Tufts.

“I'd say that a Tufts education is for intellectually curious people and for those who want to define their own education and experiences, while looking deeply at what they want to study,” Merchant said.