The Tufts Community Union Senate held a school-wide town hall regarding the diversity, equity, inclusion and justice efforts at Tufts on Feb. 3. The event featured University President Anthony Monaco, Provost ad interim Caroline Genco and other senior administration members.
A central focus of the town hall was to engage panelists by fielding questions on ways to increase the diversity and inclusion of the student body, staff and leadership.
The first question, directed at Monaco, asked about the university’s progress following its 2020 commitment to become an anti-racist institution. Monaco responded by bringing attention to efforts made by the Office of Admissions.
“The previous dean of admissions and the current dean [JT Duck] have made a lot of efforts to recruit students from areas that we were not traditionally recruiting from,” Monaco said. “[We are] also partnering with organizations that bring students to our attention that Tufts would be a good fit and might not have known about us or we might not have known about them.”
Monaco also cited the university’s undergraduate admissions test-optional pilot, which it recently extended for another three years, as an example of progress.
“In admissions, [we are] keeping a focus on our holistic approach, not relying on test scores and GPAs so much as the entire picture,” Monaco said. “Particularly, focusing on the particular context and nuance of the challenges that those students overcame or put forward for themselves as an academic challenge and how they did in that area.”
“We’re always making absolutely sure we have good balance in our search committees,” Monaco said. “We've been tracking the applicant pool diversity and comparing that to the diversity of the employees we have and then saying, well, what is that gap? Of course we want the applicant pool to continue to get more diverse, but we really want to close the gap.”
The university originally allocated $25 million to support DEIJ efforts last year, in accordance with the July 2020 commitment to anti-racism. Monaco said that the resource allocation for the initiative was recently doubled from $25 million to $50 million.
“I would argue we can't afford not to do this,” Monaco said. “Having the variation in your faculty, students and staff really brings to bear the perspectives, the different challenges that people overcame to get here and also the variety of approaches they bring from their own cultural experiences.”
Asked how he feels about the university’s progress towards becoming an anti-racist institution, Monaco expressed his gratitude at what’s been accomplished thus far but emphasized that there is still work to be done.
“When I started in 2011, I spent a lot of time talking to students and really got a sense of frustration [from] diverse students who felt, ‘Yeah, it's great to be here, but I don't feel included,’” Monaco said. “We set out a diversity council focused on that and compositional diversity … which has gotten us to where we are now, with one of the most diverse applicant pools and diverse student bodies we've ever experienced.”
Monaco also shared the strategy behind the work that has been done and the intent behind it.
“This anti-racism work is different. … It’s not just about increasing the number of faculty or the number of students and making them feel better about being here,” Monaco said. “It really is thinking about all the structures and policies … and trying to eliminate biases where they exist — and they do exist, and we found many of them, and I'm sure there's many others to be uncovered.”
Another question, directed at Genco, asked about the steps the administration is taking to ensure that faculty diversity represents the diversity of the student body.
“We have to be quite strategic about how we recruit faculty, and it can't be one at a time,” Genco said. “It's got to be these cluster hires so that we can create these communities that once we recruit these faculties, they feel like they have a sense of belonging and support.”
Genco also said the university expects future hires to hold values related to DEIJ.
“One of the things that will be critical to these faculty that we recruit is that DEIJ is critical to their educational and research mission,” Genco said. “We will then make sure that tenure and promotion of these faculty relies on their ability to really expand the work that they do in DEIJ in education and research.”
Genco noted the importance of selecting leadership that will continue to pursue these goals.
“It's really important that we not only bring in a diverse faculty, but that we also have a diverse administration,” Genco said. “It's not only about mentoring them, but it's also about creating leaders so that they can then go on and continue to mentor the next generation of diverse faculty.”
As the panel joined the discussion, a question was asked regarding the importance of transparency to students regarding public safety, equity and anti-racism efforts on campus. Yolanda Smith, executive director of public safety at Tufts, discussed the university’s response to the numerous bomb threats which rattled campus late last semester and early this semester.
“I have conferred with experts in bomb threats to understand how we can better put forth communication that's helpful for a community that's scared and frightened,” Smith said. “And not only are you all scared and frightened, we are too, but we know that we have to rely on our training and our expertise to make the best call for the threat.”
Smith added that the university collaborates with government agencies in responding to threats.
“We are not working alone when we decide what is the best method to address a threat,” Smith said. “We work with our federal, our local, our state municipal partners. … We determined a lot of things in a fast amount of time just so that we know what is the best and safest strategy for the community.”
In answering a question related to the campus’ role in promoting DEIJ among students, Camille Lizarribar, the dean of student affairs, emphasized the importance of each individual’s choices.
“Inclusivity and belonging is a shared responsibility. It's all of us,” Lizarribar said. “We can come up with all kinds of programs and trainings and workshops, but at the end of the day, we are all individuals making choices and making decisions about how [we are] relating to each other.”