Diversity Council Issues Final Report

Hiring chief diversity officer, increasing financial aid among top recommendations for fostering an inclusive environment

collage of faces at Tufts

The university’s Council on Diversity released its final report today, outlining specific measures to achieve greater diversity among the student body, faculty and staff and to ensure that Tufts promotes and embraces a culture that is welcoming to all.

Among the report’s recommendations are hiring a chief diversity officer; increasing financial aid to attract and retain talented students who traditionally have not considered Tufts; examining curricula and other programs to ensure they support diversity and inclusion; and articulating more clearly how central these values are to Tufts’ mission and vision.

The report stresses that fostering diversity and inclusion is the shared responsibility of the entire university community. “The council believes that Tufts is well positioned to be an institutional leader and live up to its values in these areas,” the report states.

“Diversity drives excellence in our academic mission,” says President Anthony Monaco, who established the Council on Diversity in early 2012 and underscored the importance of the initiative by chairing the group. “Having faculty, staff and students who come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives enriches everyone in our community.”

A diverse campus environment, he notes, is equally essential to the success of Tufts graduates, who will live and work in an increasingly multicultural society.

The council, made up of faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students, consulted extensively with the wider Tufts community during its 18-month review. Joanne Berger-Sweeney, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, served as council vice chair.

The group’s work has already helped shape the university’s strategic plan, “Tufts: The Next 10 Years,” which the Board of Trustees approved in November. One of the plan’s four major themes seeks to engage and celebrate commonalities and differences within the Tufts community, and the council’s recommendations will help advance those shared values, Monaco says.

University-wide Deliberations

The members of the council worked from a broad definition of diversity that encompasses many aspects of personal and group identity, among them race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, gender, cultural background and sexual identity.

Through focus groups and community engagement, surveys and quantitative research, three council working groups examined particular areas of the university experience—undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, and faculty and staff.

The council also drew on recommendations developed in 2011 by the Equal Educational Opportunity Committee of the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering and reviewed previous initiatives, including the 1997 report of the Task Force on Race.

The Administrative Structures and Policies Working Group, which focused on faculty and staff, was chaired by Sabrina Williams, director of human resources for the Boston and Grafton campuses. The Graduate and Professional Student Experience Working Group was chaired by Joyce Sackey, dean of multicultural affairs and global health at the School of Medicine, and the Undergraduate Student Experience Working Group was chaired by Adriana Zavala, associate professor of art history in the School of Arts and Sciences.

A key player in the implementation of the recommendations will be the chief diversity officer, who will work closely with an ongoing Council on Diversity and representatives from each of the schools to identify best practices for achieving the report’s goals and to establish metrics to track progress.

In taking a fresh look at the role of a chief diversity officer (CDO), the council wanted to ensure that the CDO would work closely with senior administration in both the academic and operational sides of Tufts to ensure broad central administrative oversight; the CDO will report to Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris and have a secondary reporting relationship to Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell. A search committee of faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students is being formed now and will be chaired by Nancy Wilson, currently dean ad interim of Tisch College. The goal is to have a CDO in place by next fall.

While the search is under way, Wilson will work on the provost’s behalf with the schools and central operating divisions as they begin to develop strategies for implementing the council’s recommendations in their areas. 

In speaking with members of the community across the three campuses, it became clear that “there are a lot of people who care deeply about these issues and want to make progress,” says Berger-Sweeney.

The Case for Financial Aid

Recognizing that the cost of a Tufts education has a bearing on the university’s ability to attract students from minority and other underrepresented groups, the council urges continued fundraising for scholarships and fellowships.

Despite the strong efforts made during the university’s last major fundraising campaign, Tufts still provides less financial aid than many of its peers. To continue addressing affordability and accessibility, the university launched the Financial Aid Initiative in 2012, with the goal of raising $25 million in financial aid endowment, to be matched by $25 million from unrestricted university funds. To date, the initiative has raised $22 million.

Related to affordability is the need to expand the so-called pipeline programs, reaching out to students who traditionally have not applied here. For instance, the School of Medicine recently started a program with the University of Massachusetts, Boston, to attract students who might not otherwise consider careers in medicine or biomedical research. The Diversity Council’s report calls for more such efforts.

Students Who Thrive

It’s not just getting students from diverse backgrounds to enroll, but also ensuring a smooth transition to Tufts. All students, particularly those who are first-generation college bound or who are coming from underserved high schools, need to have the resources and support systems in place that will allow them to thrive and thus succeed.

Participants in the undergraduate BEST and BLAST programs (Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts and Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts) earn better grades and report more satisfaction with their experiences here than their peers who do not take part in those programs, according to Berger-Sweeney.

Not all of the council’s recommendations are aimed specifically at underrepresented groups. For instance, the report calls for more mentoring opportunities for all students and enhanced career services for graduate and professional students.

Because faculty members play a key role in mentoring students, the council says the diversity of the faculty should more closely mirror that of the student body. “Study after study shows that providing a supportive and welcoming environment for students helps them achieve, and not having that kind of environment impairs their full achievement,” says Berger-Sweeney.

What goes on in the classroom is clearly important for fostering inclusiveness. While surveys of graduate and professional students at Tufts found high levels of satisfaction even when analyzed by gender and race, the council found that undergraduates from historically underrepresented groups tended to report lower levels of satisfaction with their experiences here.

The council also noted the occurrence of “microaggressions” in the classroom—for instance, a faculty member expecting individual students from underrepresented groups to speak for all members of their groups. The council has recommended professional development programs for faculty to expand awareness and understanding of issues of diversity and inclusion.

Likewise, the report highlights the importance of diversity among university staff. It notes disparities between campuses: the Medford/Somerville campus staff is composed of about 6 percent people of color, while in Boston it is 29 percent. The council recommends developing new strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse staff.

“At Tufts, diversity and excellence must be inextricably linked,” Monaco says. “Only then can we achieve our collective potential as a community.”

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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