Tufts University Establishes Center to Study Race and Democracy

Announcement comes as university hosts March 1-3 conference
February 21, 2012

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Alexander Reid

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. - Tufts University today announced that it is establishing a Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD). The university-wide center will stimulate research and debate on race and democracy in the United States and around the world.

 The announcement comes as Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences prepares to hold its biennial, national conference "Barack Obama and American Democracy" on March 1-3.

The conference, which is open to the public, will bring together nationally recognized scholars, activists, and students to examine the significance of the 2008 presidential election as it pertains to race and democracy. Participants will also analyze foreign and domestic policy under President Obama.

The conference will feature keynote addresses by Sonia Sanchez, professor emeritus at Temple University and Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. There will be panel discussions by authors and scholars from around the country, including, and Matthew Whitaker, Foundation Professor of history at Arizona State University.

Inclusion as a Theme

"This is an example of Tufts' commitment to diversity and inclusion as a theme we will integrate into our academic fabric," said Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, under whose auspices the center will reside. "Diversity and inclusion are inherent strengths and necessary for excellence, not problems to be resolved."

Tufts Professor Peniel Joseph, from the Department of History in the School of Arts and Sciences, is the founding director of CSRD. The Obama conference, he said, is an example of the scholarly activities that will form the core of the center's mission. It is scheduled to open its doors in fall 2013.

"We will tie together Tufts' longstanding commitment to active global citizenship with a research intensive approach to issues of race and democracy that affect us at the local, national, and global level," said Joseph, who is the author of "Waiting ‘til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America" (2006) and "Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama"(2010). He is a frequent national commentator on issues of race, civil rights, and democracy who has appeared on the PBS News Hour, CNN, and MSNBC.

"The center will also be a source for expert scholarly and research opinions on race and democracy," he noted. "The intersection between race and democracy impact the lives of global citizens. One of our goals is to impact policy debates, scholarship, and social and political dialogue."

The logic behind forming a center focusing on race and democracy is compelling, said Joseph. Barack Obama's election to the presidency with black and white support was seen as evidence of a "post-racial era." However, despite this historic presidency, we have witnessed racial backlash. Several states have created laws that will require voters to show a government-issued photo or passport before they are allowed to cast a ballot. Critics say the laws are a deliberate tool to suppress turnout among minority voters, thus impinging on their voting rights in the 20102 election.

Additionally, the ongoing great recession has devastated the poor who are disproportionally African Americans and Latinos. In this context, the center will focus its research on race and democracy while recognizing the significance of class and gender in the United States and globally.

The CSRD will encourage historically-informed discussions on democracy, identity, and citizenship in regions around the world. For example, the center will explore the impact of globalization on democracy and development, as well as examine the phenomenon of the 'Arab Spring' uprising, especially as it relates to calls for constitutional democracy and civil rights in authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.

Race Studies Evolve

Historically, black studies programs, departments and cultural centers in higher education emanated from protests during the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. Increasingly, work in this area has evolved beyond black-study initiatives to support research and degree programs that have a multicultural and transnational focus.

The CSRD will focus its work on three areas: exploring race and institutions globally, exploring race and democracy internationally, and promoting a campus-wide and national, and global research-driven conversation about race and democracy.

Faculty and staff support will come from an array of departments and academic programs. In additional to Tufts School of Arts and Sciences, they will include the Fletcher School, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, and Tufts School of Medicine, and the Institute for Global Leadership,

Professor James Jennings, in the school’s Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, will serve as faculty principal of the center. The focus of his work at CSRD will be to "ensure that the research and work can help make differences in the quality of life found in urban communities."

The CSRD and the Obama conference are aligned with Tufts' increasing focus on cultivating an inclusive academic environment for the university's diverse student body.

Last fall, The School of Arts and Sciences established the Office of Intercultural and Social Identities Programs. Additionally, a faculty working group is developing a new academic program that will focus on race and ethnic studies, with Africana studies at its core.

The CSRD is an outgrowth of the inaugural Obama Conference held at Tufts in March 2010 and organized by Joseph and evolved out of collaboration between Joseph and Matthew Whitaker. This dialogue also resulted in the establishment of a sister center at ASU in March 2011. The two centers will convene the BOAD conference every year, alternating between Tufts and ASU. Scholars affiliated with the two centers will also collaborate on a variety of research projects.

For information on the conference see: http://fletcher.tufts.edu/BOAD

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.