Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the anti-racism initiative at Tufts. The next part of the series will be released on Monday, November 22.
“Tufts as an anti-racist institution,âA university-wide initiative, was first announced by President of Anthony Monaco University on July 8, 2020, in order to “Find and eradicate all structural racism in Tufts”, according to the summary of the initiative. Organized in five separate sites, the initiative represents an institutional effort to make Tufts an anti-racist institution, bringing together over 100 students, teachers and staff. Overall, the initiative resulted in more than 180 important recommendations make Tufts a more diverse, equitable and inclusive learning environment for all.
In the process, the initiative invited the Tufts community to engage and tackle what “anti-racism” would mean at Tufts from a wide range of perspectives and identities. Alfredo Ramirez, a second year MALD student at Fletcher School, is one of the student leaders who participated in the compositional diversity work component of the initiative last school year, continuing the important conversation on campus.
Born in Venezuela and raised in Miami, Florida, Ramirez came to appreciate and understand diversity as a strength of American society.
“To me, diversity is made up of many differences between people – whether cognitive, experiential or racial – that may seem like a gap on paper, but can actually be a bridge to bring people together,” Ramirez said. âDiversity can help people offer distinct perspectives, backgrounds and thoughts that can ultimately help create better solutions. [to a problem] together.”
In this context, RamÃrez added that the university’s anti-racism efforts can help foster a sense of tolerance and expand the institution’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Anti-racism, for me, is a step beyond building diversity and inclusion and equitable solutions”, Ramirez said. “He takes a very active and intentional stance against racism, opposes racist policies and moves towards racial tolerance, integrating tolerance into the culture of the university.”
On top of that, Aaron Parayno, director of the Asian American Center, added that anti-racism is all about making the necessary systemic changes and leveling the playing field for all Americans.
“Anti-racism is really focused on breaking down the systems and barriers that have historically impacted people of color and on listening, actually listening, to the experiences, challenges and needs of those communities.” said Parayno. âAnti-racism in an educational institution like Tufts would mean relinquishing its power and some of its privileges to provide access and opportunities to historically disenfranchised communities. “
The Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger, University Chaplain, wrote in an email to The Daily detailing how anti-racism as a philosophy and social justice can also be understood from a religious and spiritual perspective.
“Anti-racism is an active commitment to understand, in all its complexity, the history and continuing impact of endemic systemic racism in our society” Winger wrote. âReligious communities bear a huge responsibility in and for this work. On the one hand, our religious and spiritual traditions are living reservoirs of wisdom, liberation, history and practice that have inspired (and inspire!) People to challenge injustice at all times.
Winger added that many different faith communities continue to struggle with their historic complicity with systemic racism in the United States.
âOn the other hand, too many religious communities and institutions have been complicit and actively invested in racist systems, theologies and beliefs, especially white Christian churches and institutions. Winger wrote.
Echo Parayno and Winger understanding of anti-racism, University Director of Diversity for the Somerville / Medford and SMFA campuses and Associate Rector Robert Mack elaborated on the importance of the initiative, especially in the context of the social and political climate of the last year.
âSenior management was undoubtedly moved after witnessing the spate of anti-trans, anti-black and anti-Asian violence in 2020 and how COVID-19 shed light on race-based inequalities in the country. within so many countries. the infrastructure of our country â, Mack wrote in an email to The Daily.
Joyce Sackey, Associate President and Director of Diversity at Tufts Schools of Health Sciences, also reflected on how the events of the past year have exposed the systemic racial injustices that need to be addressed in the United States.
“The racial inequalities that were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the racial calculation that swept through our nation in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, forced the Tufts community to tackle systemic racism head-on.” , Sackey elaborated.
Mack and bag added another way of understanding and defining the term “anti-racism” both philosophically and linguistically.
“We define anti-racism as the intentional practice of disrupting the many angles and degrees in which racism presents itself in thoughts, actions, policies, systems, organizations and structures” Mack and Sackey wrote in a joint emailed statement to The Daily.
In the same vein, the president of the Tufts Community Union Amma Agyei, the first black woman to Hold the post, emphasized “anti-racism” as a broad philosophy and an integral part of today’s social justice movement.
“I think that [anti-racism] envelops everythingâ¦ it starts with understanding what micro-aggressions are in order to understand what anti-black and anti-Asian rhetoric is and looks like â, said Agyei. âAnti-racism is understanding the importance of respecting people’s boundaries and respecting people’s identities, and respecting people’s origins. “
Despite the importance of the initiative to the university community, RamÃrez noted how the very term âanti-racismâ can be polarizing and divisive for some, especially in today’s national political landscape.
âI think the reason there’s been a backlash against this is because it’s part of this larger conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion, and within that conversation is the issue of privilege. And I think it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people to admit that they have privileges â, Ramirez said. “I [also] think there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about what anti-racism really isâ¦ And I think one of the ways to work towards that end is to educate people on what privilege really is .
Parayno also understands resistance to anti-racism to be linked to both psychology and politics.
âFundamentally, resistance is about people and institutions that don’t want to take into account that they may have prejudices, both explicit and implicit, and that they themselves might participate in racism, be it explicitly or passively … To be anti-racist, however, we have to look at what we were racist for. A lot of people don’t want to do that â, said Parayno. “In some of the more conservative states, they also associate anti-racism with no longer being able to be proud of American history and identity.”
However, it is essential to understand American history as it is in its fullness and totality, as Parayno explained. He believes people can be both proud American and anti-racism committed, as long as there are nuances.
âYou have to accept American history and politics as imperfectâ¦ There is no perfect ideal, there is no perfect history. I think when you are able to really cope with these imperfections, you can be proud to be an American in a more balanced way â, said Parayno.
In national political and social climates around anti-racist efforts, Mack and bag highlighted how Tufts’ initiative to become an anti-racist institution could set an example for others.
“Given the national political and social context in which we find ourselves, it is profound that Tufts enters into his university-wide anti-racism initiative,âMack and Sackey wrote. âDepending on the depth of our internal work, we have the potential to become a model, a standard and a firm invitation for post-secondary institutions to step into their anti-racist practice. Our initiative has the potential to impact the landscape and trajectory of higher education in America for generations to come.