Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Affirms Commitment to Dismantling Racism

Tufts school outlines plan to strengthen support of diversity, inclusion, and equity

Ballou Hall at Tufts University. The university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has affirmed its commitment to dismantling racism and outlined a plan to strengthen its support of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) is implementing a comprehensive strategy to dismantle systemic racism at the school and the university.

GSAS Dean Robert Cook said the GSAS Pledge for Institutional Change and Commitment to Anti-Racism reinforces the school’s focus on advancing social justice; recent initiatives include the  interdisciplinary Master of Arts in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership and the Community Fellows program, which focuses on building community for underrepresented students. 

“Graduate students are critical to both sustaining and strengthening the intellectual vitality and rigor of the university,” said Cook, former chair of the Department of Psychology. “All of us in GSAS are focused on making changes that will have lasting impact on the quality of their academic and personal experience of Tufts. The pledge reaffirms our core values and gives us a roadmap for moving forward in support of the entire university.”

The pledge aligns with the university’s collective efforts to address systemic racism that grew out of an observance of Juneteenth. It encompasses infrastructure, environment, curriculum, and people,  and specifically aims to amplify Black voices and the voices of marginalized communities within GSAS. The school attracts students from around the world and offers 22 doctoral programs, 30 master’s degree programs, and more than a dozen certificate programs. 

Action steps include:

  • Develop and implement anti-bias training for the GSAS community in order to become a more accountable, equitable, inclusive, and transparent organization;
  • Create and sustain safe, diverse, and inclusive spaces to reflect on recent events via community dialogues. Dean Robert Cook will continue to host monthly diversity coffee hours;
  • Partner with members of the GSAS community who seek change at the department level;
  • Establish an infrastructure that will create access for all in the GSAS community to collaborate in identifying and removing barriers to a diverse and justice-centered institution;
  • Develop innovative diversity and inclusion experiences/opportunities for personal, academic, and professional growth.

GSAS this summer began to address social and racial injustice by engaging different stakeholders in online dialogues. Sixty-nine graduate students and alumni met In June, over 150 faculty and staff in July, and on August 18 about 90 participants came together for an all-GSAS conversation.

Jacqueline Dejean, assistant dean of research in the School of Arts and Sciences and assistant dean of diversity and inclusion at GSAS, in opening remarks at the August dialogue, said the school is committed to developing measurable action items and finding “a way to include the entire community to hold ourselves accountable to achieving those measures.” She said it was clear that change “should happen at every level of the institution.” Dejean also believes strongly that, “Feedback from the community is essential to our continued progress in identifying areas of change and our transparency is how we assure our community that we are making substantive progress on our goals.”

For the next admissions cycle, Cook said he will undertake a comprehensive review of the admissions process in each department, “looking at where our biases in the process might be, where we might do a better job in making admission decisions, and how we can ensure that we bring all the perspectives that are important for quality education into our graduate student population.”

In addition, Cook will initiate a curricular examination to be completed by January 2021. That review will include “taking a hard look at our curricular learning objectives” for Tufts graduate degrees, with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) improvements.

DEI values will also inform other steps to be taken this year, including employee trainings and a GSAS strategic plan.

The foundation for all aspects of the pledge is frequent and open communication, and toward that end, Cook said community dialogues are vital and will continue through the academic year. In addition, the GSAS connects with other schools and offices to counter the siloed effect of being on multiple campuses and in various academic and non-academic departments.

Tough questions and honest feedback are important, he said, “so that we can make the graduate school a place we can feel proud of, where everyone feels welcome and where everyone feels their perspective is heard and that their history and their lived experience” are valued. “What we are trying to do as a unified culture reveals who we want to be.”

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