Understanding Hate and How to Counter it

Anti-bias and non-discrimination trainings aim to foster inclusive environments through education and action

As part of Tufts Talks Openly, a new series of programs focused on building awareness and knowledge to nurture an inclusive community, the Office for Institutional Inclusive Excellence is offering training sessions for students, faculty, and staff on addressing hate and discrimination, including antisemitism, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias, and Islamophobia. 

On March 26, facilitators from Project Shema will lead trainings on understanding antisemitism and creating an inclusive campus environment for Tufts’ Jewish community. On March 27, Amer F. Ahmed, provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion at University of Vermont, will lead trainings focused on supporting Tufts’ Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, and larger MENA (Middle East and North Africa) communities. 

Other Tufts Talks Openly offerings include a series of conversations called “Dialogue and Action in an Age of Divides,” organized with colleagues from nine Massachusetts universities; expanded programming on inclusive and responsive dialogues; and employee trainings on navigating challenging interactions. 

Tufts Now spoke with Monroe France, vice provost for institutional inclusive excellence, and Cigdem Talgar, vice provost for education, about why these sessions were developed and what the organizers hope they will achieve.

Tufts Now: How do these trainings relate to other parts of Tufts Talks Openly?

Cigdem Talgar: So far, our programming has been around creating spaces where people can learn more about what's going on in the world and how to have difficult conversations. These two trainings are meant to be a kind of third leg of the stool. It’s about creating spaces where the community can come together and engage in meaningful dialogue. 

It's also about trying to understand where the “anti-” part comes from and reflecting on ways in which hate arises. Discrimination and bias usually stem from having a limited understanding of what is going on and limited access to individuals from different populations. As a result, you start generalizing. 

We're really trying to address these things: How do you create a better understanding of what's going on and a better understanding of the cultures and individuals involved and really try to personalize it? Second, how can we have challenging conversations in an empathic way? When you learn how to really listen to someone and step into their perspective, you can become more attuned to your own reactions to the current situation. Once you’ve made those connections, you can start to explore where hate is coming from and how it manifests in different situations.

Monroe France: These upcoming trainings provide another opportunity for our community to come together in a shared space to explore steps we can take to create more inclusive environments here at Tufts. It’s important that we offer various entry points for our community to broaden their awareness, knowledge, capacity, and skills to create positive change.

The sessions are not only about addressing anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian bias, antisemitism, or Islamophobia; these sessions are one step in our journey at Tufts to create more inclusive and supportive learning and working spaces for members of our community that are impacted by microaggressions, acts of bias, and discrimination. 

Trainings alone will not address structural inequities or biases, but they are a critical part of a multipronged approach, especially in academic and work environments.

What are your goals with these sessions? What do you hope participants will walk away with? 

France: I hope people walk away learning something that they didn’t know before. Even if it’s one step they can take from within their sphere of power or influence to create a more inclusive environment here at Tufts.

The community has been asking for trainings focused on addressing antisemitism, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian bias, and Islamophobia for some time. It’s not only important that we offer these trainings now to address an acute need in our community; it’s important that we respond to an expressed need in our community. 

As a part of the work of the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Inclusive Excellence, we will continue to offer learning opportunities such as these in response to the expressed needs of our community, to address trends and systemic issues that align with our institutional values of inclusive excellence and civic engagement. 

While the upcoming sessions are being offered now during this critical time, they are not meant to be one-offs. They will be part of the ongoing educational and inclusive dialogue sessions the Office for Institutional Inclusive Excellence will offer as part of our inclusive educational strategy, which will be nuanced, intersectional, and multi-focused.

Institutions are sometimes critiqued for implementing short-lived interventions. How will you ensure that this work is ongoing?

Talgar: There is an intentionality behind how we are building programming at Tufts. If this were one and done, we would've already had a session and said, “we're good.” The fact that these sessions are happening a little bit later, that we’re holding multiple events, that Tufts has joined this broader consortium of universities is a signal of the university’s commitment. We’re prioritizing safety, learning, wellbeing, and mental health as our core principles and building everything around that. We’re leaning into our role as educators and our role in creating inclusive environments.

France: The most important part of ensuring this work is ongoing and not a one-off is that we integrate it into our larger strategy to advance institutional inclusive excellence through our work to develop people, advance inclusive policies and research, and offer relevant educational programming. How we do this will vary: Sometimes it will be through training or learning opportunities, other times through dialogical or creative programming, or it may be embedded in other work across the university. 

Talgar: After the first cross-university event, Dialogue in Action, there were terrific conversations around what constitutes hate speech and what doesn’t, and how reality is so different than intention. Afterward, everyone was so thankful. Monroe said, “We'd love to see you again next time and bring a plus one.” The reaction was, we want to make this bigger.

What other activities are on the horizon?

France: This spring we will offer another Tufts Table (we had very successful ones on the Health Sciences campus in March and in Medford last December); a webinar on responding to microaggressions; and a learning opportunity on emotional justice. Information about these programs can be found on the Tufts Talks Openly website. 

In the fall, we will offer programming as part of orientation, more learning and training offerings, and we will roll out university-wide inclusive dialogue programming with our colleagues in Tisch College, the School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Engineering. 

Talgar: One of our goals is bringing all of this together. To that end, we're planning a Day of Dialogue, which will provide an opportunity to reflect on how things have evolved and how dynamics have changed throughout this time. 

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