Learning from a Presidency in Progress

Tufts to host conference on Barack Obama March 1–3, and establish Center for the Study of Race and Democracy
February 26, 2012


Tufts will host a conference on Barack Obama and American Democracy March 1–3, and will establish a Center for the Study of Race and Democracy to stimulate research and debate on those themes in the United States and around the world.

The conference, which is open to the public, will bring together nationally recognized scholars, activists and students to examine the significance of the 2008 presidential election as it relates to race and democracy. Participants will also analyze foreign and domestic policy under President Obama.

The conference will feature a keynote address by Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. There will be panel discussions by authors and scholars from around the country, including Sonia Sanchez, professor emerita at Temple University, and Matthew Whitaker, the ASU Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University.

“This is an example of Tufts’ commitment to diversity and inclusion as a theme we will integrate into our academic fabric,” says Joanne Berger-Sweeney, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, under whose auspices the new center will reside. “Diversity and inclusion are inherent strengths and necessary for excellence, not problems to be resolved.”

Global Responses to Race

“The intersection between race and democracy impacts the lives of global citizens,” says Peniel Joseph. “One of our goals is to impact policy debates, scholarship and social and political dialogue.” Photo: Tom KatesPeniel Joseph, a professor of history in the School of Arts and Sciences, is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The Obama conference, he says, is an example of the scholarly activities that will form the core mission of the center, slated to open in fall 2013.

“We will tie together Tufts’ longstanding commitment to active global citizenship with a research-intensive approach to issues of race and democracy that affect us at the local, national and global level,” says Joseph, the author of Waiting ’til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (2006) and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama (2010).

“The center will also be a source for expert scholarly and research opinions on race and democracy,” he notes. “The intersection between race and democracy impacts the lives of global citizens. One of our goals is to impact policy debates, scholarship and social and political dialogue.”

The center will encourage historically informed discussions on democracy, identity and citizenship around the world. For example, it will explore the impact of globalization on democracy and development, as well as examine the phenomenon of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, especially as it relates to calls for constitutional democracy and civil rights in authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.

The center will focus on three areas: exploring race and institutions globally, exploring race and democracy internationally and promoting a campus-wide, national and global research-driven conversation about race and democracy.

Faculty and staff support will come from an array of departments and academic programs. In addition to the School of Arts and Sciences, they will include the Fletcher School, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, the School of Medicine and the Institute for Global Leadership,

James Jennings, a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning, will serve as faculty principal of the center. Jennings will ensure that the center’s research and work can help enhance the quality of life in urban communities.

The center is an outgrowth of the inaugural Obama conference Joseph organized at Tufts in March 2010. Arizona State University went on to establish its own Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, which Whitaker leads, in March 2011. The two centers will convene the Barack Obama and American Democracy conference every year, alternating between Tufts and Arizona State. Scholars affiliated with the centers will also collaborate on research projects.


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