Creating Understanding

Using the university’s libraries, the Bridging Differences initiative encourages learning about the political, social, and cultural issues that divide our society

an alcove in Tisch Library with books and a poster on the wall

If you are walking toward the Tower Café in Tisch Library this semester, you’ll notice a couple of big signs on the wall and a reading alcove with chairs and books. It’s one of the first projects of Bridging Differences, an initiative led by the university’s chief diversity officers, Rob Mack and Joyce Sackey.

The books, and a long reading list, offer many different points of view about the political, social, and cultural differences that divide our society—and ways to bridge that divide. That’s just the point of the Bridging Differences initiative: “to improve understanding and engagement across divergent perspectives at Tufts,” according to the group’s website.

The initiative, started last year by former Provost David Harris and continuing with the support of Deborah Kochevar, provost ad interim, has a task force with members from across the university community, including many students. Now chaired by Mack and Sackey, the group held a retreat in August to plan for the fall semester.

One result of those discussions was a Bridging Differences presence at new student orientation. Participants staffed tables at the Mayer Campus Center on the Medford/Somerville campus and met with new parents and students, sharing the initiative’s goals, and getting new students involved in thinking about what the initiative means to them. 

Heather Barry, associate director of the Institute for Global Leadership, has led another effort, creating Bridging Differences alcove displays at the libraries on each of Tufts’ campuses. “The book displays in the libraries are an effort to begin introducing the campus to the themes and ideas behind Bridging Differences, as well as a start at getting members of the Tufts community engaged by providing readings to get them thinking,” said Barry.

It was important to have all the campuses involved,  she said, so there are materials at Tisch Library, Ginn Library (outside the reading room), Hirsh Health Sciences Library (in the leisure reading area on the fourth floor), the main SMFA library and Webster Family Library. In most libraries the displays will be up for a month or two, and at Tisch Library, the books will be up for the whole semester. 

At Tisch, the featured books range from The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Talking to Strangers by Danielle S. Allen to White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed. Each library will have different suggestions, based on its holdings. At the Hirsh Health Sciences Library, extra copies of Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men, by John Rich, will be available. It is this year’s common book reading assignment for M.D. and public health students at the School of Medicine.

“We hope to highlight books and other resources at each library to inspire conversation and learning on an array of topics over the year,” said Mack.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at

Back to Top