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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

How to transform policy into change: Tufts Education Reentry Network

‘MyTERN’ course hosted an event with local legislators, helping students learn to transform policy recommendations into real change.


MyTERN participants gathered in the Rabb Room, Barnum Hall on Feb. 29.

On the evening of Feb. 29, the Rabb Room in Barnum Hall became a productive dialogue space consisting of Tufts undergraduates, Tufts Prison Initiative graduates, activists and government legislators, all gathered to discuss how to turn policies on paper into real change.

The event was part of professor Samuel M. Gebru’s course on “The Art of Good Trouble: Policy, Politics and Advocacy,” where Gebru provides a cohort of Tufts undergraduates and formerly incarcerated individuals “a practical approach into the process of who makes public policy decisions, for whom, how, why, and the lessons we can learn from this process.”

During the event, each student presented their policy recommendation for an issue they care about, complete with background, evidence, stakeholder analysis and steps for moving forward. Upon finishing, a panel of three special guests provided feedback. The guests included Anthony Richards, the vice president of Equitable Business Development at Mass Housing and former deputy chief of staff for former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker; Ayla Thorntona, legislative director for Mass. State Sen. Sal DiDomenico; and Malaika Lucien, Legislative Affairs Liaison to Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey.

Unlike a usual feedback session, the students’ assignments at the event were assessed from the perspective of those who have an insider view of the real policymaking process. A recurring theme in the judges’ comments was the power of personal experience. For instance, after one of the students shared their policy on reducing life sentences, Thorntona encouraged them to focus on the policy’s impact on their life.

We can look up a lot of policy stuff, we can see the bills are coming through and like we’re aware, but you are unique, you have your own story that we can’t replicate. So that’s actually just really powerful on its own. … Go deeper into the mental impact of this, like, how does something hanging over like that, this long and this serious, what does that really do for you? Because a lot of people don’t have experience, so you’ve got to spell it out,” Thorntona said.  

The Art of Good Trouble is a course within MyTERN, also known as My Tufts Education Reentry Network, a program under the Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College. While TUPIT allows formerly incarcerated students to pursue a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, MyTERN is a one-year program that provides formerly incarcerated students with important resources and skills for reentry. Quinn Williamson, academic director and program administrator at TUPIT, explained the program’s importance.

“MyTERN is much more than just the classes. … It’s a community where we are able to offer wraparound reentry services, and that’s including housing, and particularly important is getting identification, supporting our students with childcare, helping with transportation and all those sorts of things,” Williamson said.

Williamson also spoke about the significance of employment and outside engagement for the students.

“Most of our students are over 30 … so employment is a big, big piece of what we’re doing, what we think about. …We have partner organizations that help us find meaningful employment for our students, not just overnight shifts. … We also want our students to be able to apply the skills that they’ve learned in the Civic Studies certificate. … So we’ve partnered with different organizations that will employ our students or will help our students find meaningful employment.”

David Delvalle, a former MyTERN student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in civic studies at Tufts, also spoke on the connections he made during the program and how that impacted him personally.

“The networking aspect was huge. I got my job working at Haley House as a program manager through a TUPIT speech. I went to Tufts Medical Center to go speak to a bunch of medical students about food insecurity, and Haley House was on the panel next to me, and they came out and offered me a job on the spot. … The job led to me getting my one-bedroom brownstone. … That changed my life,” Delvalle said.

As the class on Feb. 29 came to an end, students of The Art of Good Trouble had the opportunity to make connections with the guests, who provided contacts for local and state-level representatives. One student informed Hilary Binda, founder and executive director of TUPIT, that he was excited to follow up with Lucien so that he could “introduce his policy recommendations on the treatment of system-involved youth under 21: rather than punish as adults, educate and help these kids heal through a restorative framework,” Binda wrote in an email to the Daily.

Slowly but surely, the policies written for a school assignment are embarking on long journeys toward the desks of the right people.