Newly developed effort works across all university campuses to respond to bias with education and programming for students, faculty, and staff
Tufts University’s recently configured Bias Education and Resource Team (BERT) offers new ways to actively support and engage community members on issues of bias, strengthening Tufts’ efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.
When the university receives reports of bias incidents affecting the broader community, BERT—which includes one team focused on the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses and one focused on the Boston and Grafton health sciences campuses—will mobilize to recommend and help deliver education and programming to support and heal students, faculty, and staff.
Each team is composed of key personnel to match the needs of its campuses and will collaborate closely with the provost’s office, identity-based centers, and other offices and programs that promote equity and anti-racism at Tufts.
Leading the two teams are associate provosts and chief diversity officers Rob Mack (Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses) and Joyce Sackey (Boston and Grafton). Tufts Now spoke with Mack and Sackey, who is also dean for multicultural affairs and global health and Dr. Jane Murphy Gaughan Professor at the School of Medicine, about the new teams.
Tufts Now: Why do we need BERT? What is its role?
Rob Mack: BERT’s specific purpose is to address the community impact of bias and hate events by providing support to everyone—students, faculty, and staff. It’s important to recognize Tufts’ past efforts, but this is a way to take collaborative and purposeful action with the clear message from the president and provost that this is a university priority.
When we first envisioned how these teams should work, it became apparent that the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and University Communications had been, respectively, filling the important functions of investigating and communicating about incidents. We identified an unmet need for centrally supported, team-based efforts focusing on supporting the community by providing education and resources.
Joyce Sackey: Our focus is on making sure that community members feel supported. OEO remains the primary vehicle for receiving reports of bias and discrimination and investigating those incidents. Our role is to intervene to improve the campus environment. We don’t have investigatory powers.
Will BERT act only in response to incidents on the Tufts campus or do you see a larger role?
Mack: While there are incidents of bias and hate directly on campus, it’s also important for us to think about the effect of events that happen externally and on the national level. So, for example, BERT was among the sponsors of the March 24 vigil to honor the eight lives recently lost in Atlanta and to support our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community.
Sackey: It’s important that we differentiate between bias incidents and overtly racist acts such as killing people because of their race or ethnicity. We co-sponsored the vigil to honor the lives of the victims of the shootings in Atlanta.
It was also an occasion to reflect as a community on how to take a stand against ongoing anti-Asian bias that preceded the Atlanta shootings. The fact is that for months there have been anti-Asian bias incidents happening all across this country, including within our own community, and not taking a stand against these bias incidents can lead to empowering of people who then take violent acts. We are standing up against the undercurrent of bias that can lead to overtly racist acts like murder.
I would hope BERT would begin to have programming that would be not only in reaction to bias incidents, but also look at the overall landscape. If we were to see an increased trend of discrimination against any protected category, I would hope we would preemptively set up an educational program addressing that issue. If we wait and are only reactive to dramatic and tragic incidents like murder, we will not be effecting change.
Mack: OEO keeps a lot of data, so they have an opportunity to note trends and concerns and put them forward to us. This gives us an opportunity to address issues before they escalate or have a larger impact on campus. The experience of faculty, staff, and students is really important to us, so we hope they’ll continue to report concerns about bias and discrimination to OEO.
How do you measure success?
Sackey: Establishment of BERT and increased awareness of bias incidents through the programming we will be offering will, paradoxically, increase the number of bias incidents reported to OEO. Such an uptick will be a reflection that education is working, that we are sensitizing people to what a bias incident is, and that people are feeling more comfortable reporting these incidents. With time, we should begin to see a change in the environment and a decrease in these incidents. We have to have a long view.
We are also planning a 360-degree survey about campus culture—the first such survey that will simultaneously reach students, faculty, and staff. Our goal is to repeat similar climate surveys periodically as a way of monitoring our progress in transforming institutional culture. We hope over time data from these regular climate surveys will reflect that people are feeling more supported and are experiencing fewer microaggressions and bias incidents.