Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion

Rob Mack and Joyce Sackey bring a breadth of experience to their new roles as chief diversity officers for Tufts
Joyce Sackey and Rob Mack at Ballou Hall
Joyce Sackey and Rob Mack outside Ballou Hall. “We don’t see diversity and inclusion as Joyce’s and my jobs solely—it’s the university’s work,” said Mack. “But it is our role to help us move the university toward that place.” Photo: Anna Miller
September 4, 2018

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When Rob Mack and Joyce Sackey were named Tufts’ chief diversity officers in late March, both already had deep experience and extensive networks at Tufts. Since May, they have been making a swift transition, settling into their new duties, and preparing for the tasks that lie ahead of them.

Mack, associate dean for student success and advising in the School of Arts and Sciences and director of its Bridge to Liberal Arts Success (BLAST) program, is now associate provost and chief diversity officer (CDO) for the Medford/Somerville campus and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. Sackey, dean for multicultural affairs and global health and Dr. Jane Murphy Gaughan Professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, is associate provost and chief diversity officer for the health sciences campuses in Boston and Grafton. Mack and Sackey have re-configured and partially delegated their dean duties and have made leadership of Tufts diversity and inclusion efforts a priority.

Tufts formerly had a single chief diversity officer responsible for the entire university. By dividing the duties, said Sackey and Mack, they can focus more on the sometimes quite different campus experiences for students, faculty, and staff.

There are additional benefits to having two CDOs, said Deborah Kochevar, provost and senior vice present ad interim, to whom Sackey and Mack report. “I believe this model of diversity and inclusion leadership is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said. “Rob’s and Joyce’s other commitments are closely aligned with the CDO work and important synergies are already emerging.” Sackey and Mack are committed to this model for the next three years.

The responsibility of the chief diversity officers is wide-ranging—their work touches all the people who work and study at Tufts, in myriad different ways. And, Kochevar said, it’s vital work. “The educational experience at Tufts is enriched for everyone by the presence of a diverse and welcoming community,” she said. “By embracing and celebrating diverse geographies, cultures, ethnicities, races, sexual identities, life experiences, and more, we expand our students’ ways of thinking and ability to work well with others.”

For his part, Mack plans to spend time initially listening to his constituents—and then quickly move from listening to taking action. In his first year, he said, he hopes to focus on faculty and staff. “That’s a real focus for the coming year, to really think about what our climate is—the experience for staff and faculty—and what ways we can be helpful to that experience.” Recruitment and especially retention of faculty of color have continued to be challenging for the university, and Mack’s focus aims to deepen understanding and awareness of the climate for faculty and to develop new strategies for institutional success.

Another area of focus, Mack said, is undergraduate and graduate students. “I think we want to be really thoughtful about the classroom experience—to make sure that faculty are aware of diversity and inclusion in the curriculum, in lectures, in their interactions as advisors, mentors, and researchers,” he said.

Diversity encompasses many characteristics, of course, including race, ethnicity, spirituality, gender, and socioeconomic status. That latter sometimes get short shrift, but it’s vital to pay attention to, said Mack. In his work as associate dean for student success and advising in Arts and Sciences, he focused on socioeconomic diversity, supporting low-income students, first-generation college students, and students with undocumented status.

“We are really proud of how Tufts has moved forward with new orientation programs for these groups,” he said, including the new First Center for low-income and first-generation students that is opening this fall at 20 Professors Row.

That’s just one example of efforts to promote inclusion on Tufts’ campuses. “Inclusiveness is this: once people get here, do they feel like they belong?” said Sackey, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana, and came to Tufts by way of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, having served as a primary care physician for many years. “Do they feel supported and valued? Do they feel they can thrive here like anybody else? Do they have what they need to achieve at the same level?”

Part of that feeling of inclusion for students is seeing faculty who look like them, whom they can identify with. “We need students to not feel like they are alone on this campus, and not come into a classroom where they are the only person of color,” said Mack.

To make real change takes concentrated effort—and time, said Sackey. When she first came to Tufts School of Medicine in 2009, she was charged by the dean with working to increase student diversity and inclusion. A reaccreditation report had just criticized the school for having a student body that was much less diverse than the student populations at its peer institutions.

“I jumped in with both feet,” she said, joining the admissions committee, speaking with current and prospective students, and working with faculty. The result is that last year the school enrolled its most diverse class in ten years. “It took teamwork and a multi-pronged approach over years,” Sackey said.

She also joined President Anthony Monaco’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion when it began in 2013, and chaired its subgroup on the graduate and professional student experience, all of which has proved to be good background for her new work as CDO. “I feel like I had a rehearsal for this work—I really gained insights into the experiences of graduate and professional students and how that might be quite different from the undergraduate experience,” she said.

As Sackey continues to engage with the work of promoting student body diversity and inclusion, she is also focusing on faculty diversity and retention at the medical school, a tough challenge since most faculty are clinical teachers from affiliated medical institutions, and not hired directly by the university. “At the medical school, we are articulating that this goal is a core value; frankly, it’s critical to our survival,” Sackey said. “This last reaccreditation process we received a passing grade with monitoring status for the diversity standards,” meaning that the school needs to improve on that measure before its next reaccreditation.

The health sciences schools have different levels of diversity, she said. The School of Dental Medicine, for example, has a more diverse student body than usual for schools in the health professions. In part, she said, that stems from the tenure of Lonnie Norris, who served as dean from 1996 to 2011 and was one of the first African American deans of a dental school in America, apart from those at historically black colleges and universities. “Having leadership at that level signals that this place is welcoming of diversity and inclusion, and people gravitate to that,” said Sackey. That same focus continues with Dean Huw Thomas, who has prioritized diversity at the school, and seen it continue to grow, added Sackey.  

One university-wide effort that is already under way is the Bridging Differences initiative, begun by former provost David Harris and former CDO Amy Freeman. It seeks to “improve understanding and engagement across divergent perspectives at Tufts, through effective communication and programming,” according to the initiative website. Sackey and Mack will be co-chairing the initiative going forward, along with Kochevar, and look forward to increased outreach efforts as the fall semester begins.   

“We don’t see diversity and inclusion as Joyce’s and my jobs solely—it’s the university’s work,” said Mack. “But it is our role to help us move the university toward that place, where we really feel that the experience is what it’s meant to be and we are living up to our core values.”

Mack and Sackey are “ideally suited and highly respected leaders to champion diversity and inclusion across Tufts’ geography and breadth of school expertise,” said Kochevar. “By building on their existing networks, Rob and Joyce have been able to quickly gain momentum in their roles. They are both warm and engaging individuals who know our campus communities well and have enthusiastically embraced opportunities and challenges across Tufts.”

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

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