The Road to Eradicating Structural Racism at Tufts

Leaders share how new workstreams aim to guide Tufts toward a more equitable future
Aerial view of the Medford/ Somerville campus, with the Boston skyline in the background. Tufts leaders share how new workstreams aim to guide Tufts toward a more equitable future.
“Our goal is to identify and remove structural racism from all processes, procedures, and practices within all schools, units, and levels of the university,” said Kim Ryan, vice president for human resources. Photo: Alonso Nichols
August 31, 2020

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In response to the latest incidents of racial violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, President Anthony Monaco expressed his support for and solidarity with Black students, faculty, and staff at Tufts. “I share their pain and outrage over the shooting of Jacob Blake,” he told Tufts Now.

“I share their anger and frustration at the murder of two protesters allegedly at the hands of a teenage white supremacist,” he said. “As before, we are trying to find a path forward, only to seemingly find ourselves, once again, in exactly the same place where we started.”  

Acknowledging that the road to eradicating structural racism may be longer and slower than anyone would like, he reaffirmed the university’s commitment to action.

“Words without actions matter little,” Monaco said. “While I share the pain, outrage, anger, and frustration of our Black students, faculty, and staff, I know that I don’t share their daily experiences. I have a responsibility to acknowledge that difference, to state very clearly and explicitly that Black lives matter, and to commit our university to ensuring our words are matched with action.” 

On June 19, Monaco announced that he would be creating five workstreams with the goal of making Tufts an anti-racist institution:  

Institutional Audit and Targeted Action: Co-chaired by Kim Ryan, vice president for human resources, and Joyce Sackey, associate provost and chief diversity officer for the health sciences schools, the goals of this workstream are to identify how structural racism is embedded at all levels across the university, and to build upon and learn from the anti-racism work that many departments are already engaging in. 

Campus Policing: Co-chaired by Mike Howard, executive vice president, and Rob Mack, associate provost and chief diversity officer for the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses, this workstream will benchmark best practices of how other universities manage policing on their campuses and ask critical questions about the power dynamics of policing at Tufts, including how the police are perceived by Black community members and other community members of color. Also within the purview of this workstream are considerations of what we require to keep our community safe and secure. 

Public Art: Led by Marty Ray, chief of staff, this workstream partners with the existing Public Art Committee, chaired by Dina Deitsch, director and chief curator of the Tufts University Art Galleries, to think critically about whose history and images are displayed throughout our campuses and to make appropriate changes to those displays. 

Compositional Diversity: Led by Nadine Aubry, provost and senior vice president, with the support of Kevin Dunn, vice provost, and Chris Swan, dean of undergraduate education for the School of Engineering, this workstream is examining the diversity of Tufts students, faculty, staff, and academic and administrative leadership in order to make specific recommendations on how to recruit and retain a more representative university community.  

Equity and Inclusion: Led by Aubry in partnership with Bárbara Brizuela, dean of academic affairs for the School of Arts and Sciences, and Sackey, this group is creating a committee structured under four subgroups and will be inviting students, faculty, staff, and university leadership to join them beginning in early September to devise strategies to ensure equity and inclusion at Tufts. 

Tufts Now spoke with the leaders of this effort to understand more about their goals, where they stand today, and why this work is so important to them.  

Tufts Now: Sometimes task forces are criticized as a way to defer dealing with an issue. How will these efforts be different?    

Rob Mack: President Monaco’s creation of these five workstreams is a different approach to traditional committee and task-force work. These groups are shorter-term investigative teams that will gather multiple perspectives to identify systems, policies, or practices that don’t ensure equality to our community.

President Monaco expects each group to make recommendations for change in real time with the expectation that by the time the final reports are presented, many of the recommendations will already have been enacted. This approach is designed to accelerate solutions, rather than deferring the issue.  

Marty Ray: Action is the focus of everyone involved in this critically important enterprise. We encourage everyone to judge us by the actions we take over the course of the coming weeks. 

How will you keep the community informed about progress being made on these efforts?   

Ray: A website with updates on each of the workstreams is being designed in partnership with University Communications and Marketing. Hosted under the aegis of the President’s Office, this site will house regular updates from each of the workstreams, list the names of all the committee members, provide information on changes that may be recommended, and provide a mechanism for community members to give feedback.

In addition, President Monaco has asked each of the workstream leaders to provide comprehensive updates to the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council and senior team at least once every month. Through a series of town halls to be scheduled throughout the fall, and beyond, the group will provide proactive updates to the larger Tufts community. 

Will there be opportunities for the community to give input?   

Joyce Sackey: Absolutely. Each workstream will have representation from each campus and members of the faculty, the staff, and the student body. Once the membership of each workstream has been established, we will have a communication plan that describes how members of the community can engage in the work. 

Mack: The workstreams might employ different approaches, but the community can expect opportunities to contribute in the form of town halls, digital suggestion boxes, or focus groups. No matter what methods a given workstream may use to solicit contributions, be assured that these efforts are all tightly coordinated. 

Have financial resources been made available to support these workstreams?  

Mack: Each workstream will determine its needs and the necessary financial resources to move forward. For example, groups may determine that an outside expert is needed. In such cases the groups will work with President Monaco to discuss allocation of financial support. We also have increased resources in the last year in the Provost’s office, including two associate directors of diversity and inclusion education.      

Sackey: The Institutional Audit and Targeted Action workstream, for example, will be hiring a consulting firm to ensure we have the resources and expertise to take on this expansive, transformative initiative.  

Kim, what does the Institutional Audit hope to reveal, and how will that translate to Targeted Action? 

Kim Ryan: Our goal is to identify and remove structural racism from all processes, procedures, and practices within all schools, units, and levels of the university. We will recommend prioritized targeted actions to remove structural racism, including the accountability and transparency needed to deliver the agreed-upon actions, and identify and implement specific actions that have an immediate positive effect on our community and build momentum towards our long-term objectives and strategy. 

Our work to date has focused on the process to select and engage a consulting partner to provide thought leadership, expertise, a framework, and tools—along with resources—needed to complete this work. We have also designed a steering committee of university-wide stakeholders, including students. Committee selection is expected to be completed in early September, pending the successful recruitment of the consultant. 

Nadine, you are responsible for the Compositional Diversity Workstream. How will this process increase diversity at Tufts?   

Nadine Aubry: This workstream will examine the diversity of our faculty, staff, and students as well as our academic and administrative leadership, and make specific recommendations for designing new processes to recruit and retain a more diverse community at all levels and across all schools, centers, institutes, and units of the university.

This will include recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff, as well as attracting and admitting diverse students. We will also look at how we can better prepare all our students for academic and personal success at Tufts and beyond.     

How will you look for changes that will support a culture of equity and inclusion throughout Tufts, both inside and outside the classroom?  

Aubry: The Equity and Inclusion Workstream will propose training programs for faculty and staff, as well as revised curricula, new education programs, and strengthened academic and support services for all our students within and outside the classroom.

We will design more equitable processes for promotion and tenure and equitable clinical services. Two early initiatives in this direction include Tufts’ sponsoring of the recent 2020 National Anti-Racism Teach-In Virtual Conference and the draft proposal for a training program of faculty and staff. Discussions are also taking place with the deans and their leadership teams, who are looking into new education and training programs within their schools.  

Are there any immediate actions those workstreams will take?   

Aubry: Yes, I can see a number of actions. I envision that one important recommendation will be to train search committee members across the university for openness toward diversity—for example, to be proactive in recruiting diverse candidates and overcome unconscious bias while assessing underrepresented candidates.  

Likewise, the Equity and Inclusion Workstream can focus right away on recommendations for basic and advanced inclusivity and equity training of faculty and staff, building on studies of what has been most effective as reported in scholarly publications and at other organizations.

Moreover, it has been shown that short-term training in these areas can be made more impactful if augmented by other programs over longer time periods, such as workshops, informative sessions, dialogues, etc., so proposing such additional initiatives will be important as well. The workstream could also recommend that all curricula/courses be reviewed for bias in their content and all students receive required appropriate education.   

Mike, what questions will the Campus Policing workstream be asking?  

Mike Howard: We will be focused on determining the model for campus safety and policing that best meets the needs of our current and future community members. This will require re-thinking some of the core assumptions and fundamental elements of our current approach. To do that, we will be asking questions such as: 

  1. What are our objectives and priorities with regard to campus safety across our campuses for our community members?  
  2. What are the main services that will need to be provided to meet our objectives? How do these services differ from our current offering?  
  3. What different models exist for delivering these services on college and university campuses to communities like ours? What organizations, structures, and resources are needed to support these models? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of those models? What type of model will best meet our needs? 
  4. How can we ensure that our campus safety capabilities evolve over time to reflect the changing needs of our community and reflect leading campus safety and policing practices? 

How do you propose to be transparent and have accountability for these efforts? 

Howard: A committee of university-wide stakeholders that includes students, faculty, and staff is currently being developed. We will be providing regular updates on the committee’s work on a Tufts website dedicated to this initiative and our other anti-racism efforts. Additionally, we plan to conduct extensive outreach through community and stakeholder group sessions to gather community input, receive feedback, and ensure the group’s work benefits from the broadest array of community member perspectives. 

Marty, what do you hope to achieve through the Public Art workstream?    

Marty Ray: We will first take an audit of what hangs on the walls of the buildings on our campus, and what kinds of sculptures or murals exist. Then we will look at opportunities to do more. As a start, we are looking to ensure that the works of art reflect gender, racial, and ethnic equity—not only in their subjects, but in the artists that create them. 

Representation and recognition of Tufts people through works of art generally veers toward images of people in senior leadership roles, so we want to see if there are ways for us to recognize our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees more broadly and more creatively. We plan to look at photography, video, digital, and new media to see whether modern technologies provide us with a more dynamic medium for recognizing a greater and more diverse cross-section of our community.   

What will success for Public Art look like?   

Ray: Our measure of success will be two-fold. First, we want to ensure that the history of Tufts, as represented by the art across campus, is as complete, accurate, and detailed as we can get it and does not favor any single community. While we expect this approach to increase the diversity of those depicted across our campuses organically, we also intend to augment the collection should the history, as recorded, not prove representative. 

Secondly, success will be a campus where the Tufts community feels that the art across campus is an extension of them and not items or subjects that they cannot identify with. Our goal is to have our art make everyone in our community feel inspired and proud of the achievements of those who came before us, many of whom have yet to be recognized or memorialized appropriately.  

Why does this work matter to you personally?  

Aubry: I deeply believe that we have the responsibility to educate underrepresented students and build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive university at all levels. As an institution, we cannot be excellent without diversity, so making our university more diverse is imperative. It is crucial that we change the culture by teaching our faculty, staff, and students about these issues and be inclusive and equitable for the professional, academic, and personal success of every single member of the institution.  

Ray: One of my goals in being a higher education administrator is to create environments where every single member of our community can thrive. Part of that experience depends on how we feel when we experience the art across our campuses. Art has an important role to play in telling the story of Tufts, and we must ensure that it gets told accurately, justly, and fairly.    

Sackey: As associate provost and chief diversity officer for the health sciences campuses, I think this work aligns well with what we need to do to become a better institution. This work also matters to me as a Black woman, a Black faculty member, and one of only a handful of Black university leaders at Tufts. A more inclusive and equitable Tufts will have a direct impact on the quality of my professional and personal experiences as a member of the university community.  

Ronee Saroff can be reached at ronee.saroff@tufts.edu.