Latest article: Tufts launches Office Intercultural and Social Identities Program

This article was interesting to write, a good study in objectivity.

I’ll come back to share my opinions soon.

Is “separating” oneself from a story even possible? Aren’t stories, isn’t news inherently biased? How do I wear my “caps” simultaneously, or will my views “poison” the story? Is it poisoning, or healing? BAH! Anyway, I’m happy with this story. It’s on the long side, and I’ll reflect privately in my journal (not my blog!), but I’ll come back to share my opinions after a bit. Perhaps during spring break?


Anyway, here you go!

New Office of Intercultural and Social Identities Programs launched

By Brionna Jimerson

Published: Monday, March 12, 2012

Updated: Monday, March 12, 2012 08:03

The Office of Intercultural and Social Identities Programs  (ISIP) was launched on Friday as a space for students to gain awareness and respect for racial, ethnic and identity diversity on campus, explore their own identities and confront social concerns on campus.

Goals of the Office of ISIP “We’re working under the guiding principle that says diversity and inclusion are inherent strengths for academic excellence and not problems to be resolved,” Director of the Office of ISIP and Africana Center Director Katrina Moore told the Daily in an interview.

Moore said the office is working to strengthen diversity and inclusion by providing opportunities for students to think critically about who they are and how their identities impact their experiences at Tufts.

“We’re trying to create a campus that respects all students and [works to build] a campus community that is inclusive and make sure everyone has equal participation,” Moore said. “There are some students more aligned with their religious or ethnic identity, but they still need to have support and feel they are equal participants on the campus.”

The Office of ISIP is focused on ensuring inclusion for undergraduate and graduate students, particularly those from historically marginalized groups, according to  Moore.

Student ambassador to the Office of ISIP Genesis Garcia shared her insight on the significance of investigating the meaning of “historically marginalized groups” and “inclusion” in an interview during Friday’s launch day events in the Mayer Campus

Center break-out sessions with ISIP student ambassadors.

“By inclusive, it means that there are a lot of identity groups on campus, and people have had radically different experiences and needs at Tufts,” Garcia, a freshman, said.

“We automatically associate groups of people of color as historically marginalized. [That] almost every identity group — based on religion, race, ability — has been historically marginalized is news for some people,” she said. “And in order for everyone to know, steps must be taken for those who don’t know. I don’t want this to be just another diversity initiative [that] we talk about and nothing gets done.”

The title of the office, Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney told the audience at the “A Focus on Tufts” dinner event on the launch day, was repeatedly reworked to make it more encompassing of social and cultural experiences.

Moore included among the goals of the Office of ISIP creating a resource directory, an organized “road map” of resources available on campus to help students navigate the  services and opportunities at Tufts.

“The road map is a sort of  ‘what do I do if …’ resource, to make sure students are supported, and know what’s available on campus,” Ikenna Acholonu, graduate assistant and program coordinator of the Office of ISIP, said.

“There are many times when students don’t understand the function of the Provost’s Office, or when they need to go to the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO). We want students to know where to go to address their concerns,” Moore said.

The Office of ISIP is establishing itself as a direct line of communication between students and administrators, through the support and joint efforts of student ambassadors, a faculty working group, the directors of the Group of Six centers  — the Asian American Center, the International Center, the Africana Center, the Women’s Center, the Latino Center and the LGBT Center — and Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies John Barker, according to Moore.

“With ISIP, there is a direct link to the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, so the data we’re collecting has a direct route to decision-makers,” Moore said.

Creation of the Office of ISIP

The Office of ISIP began its planning phases in fall 2011, with Moore as the director, at the order of Berger-Sweeney. She had seen a similar program implemented at Wellesley College, where she served as associate dean before coming to Tufts.

According to Moore, adequate qualitative research conducted at other institutions informed the creation of the Office ofISIP at Tufts, along with Berger-Sweeney’s history as Wellesley College.

A report prepared by consultants for Wellesley College concerning multicultural programming aided the creation of such a program at Tufts.

“The consultants found that many institutions had independent houses that reflected singular elements of identity, but these houses did not address the needs of students with complex identities,” Moore told the Daily in an email. “Since the report was research-based and comprehensive, the dean was very well-prepared to address similar issues when she arrived at Tufts.”

According to Moore, Berger-Sweeney spent her second semester at Tufts — Spring 2011 — speaking with students in sororities and fraternities, the Asian American, Africana and Latino Centers, theLGBT Center and the Women’s Center, and reportedly found that her assessment of the Tufts student body mimicked what she had heard at Wellesley.

Afterward, Berger-Sweeney concluded that the issues investigated in the consultants’ report were not just applicable to Wellesley but also had broader applicability to an institution such as Tufts.

Moore explained in the email that the Group of Six leaders continued to research similar programs in higher education and worked to express the particular needs and specific concerns at Tufts to develop the mission and programming for the Office of ISIP.

Moore foresees her dual involvement at the Office of ISIP and the Africana Center as complimentary assets.

“I’m here [at the Africana Center] on a daily basis, [hearing] about experiences students are having,” she said in an interview. “That helps to inform some of the areas that need to be focused on.”

Moore clarified that the Group of Six centers will not disappear to make way for the Office of ISIP. Rather, Moore expressed plans to make the Office of ISIP a focal point for university-wide events addressing racial, ethnic and identity diversity.

“There are lots of events that have to do with inclusion and diversity. Unless you’re a part of that, you know it and otherwise, it may not feel there’s a lot going on on campus.”

To this extent, according to Moore, the Office of ISIP is currently working with Tuftslife for the creation of an event category for cultural identities-related events.

“Just like you can click and find out sports events, you can click and find out what cultural events are,” Moore said.

Launch and Student Ambassadors

Included in the Friday launch events were the student ambassadors’ presentation of their “Say Hello” Campaign Project, small discussions with the Office of ISIP ambassadors in the Mayer Campus Center and dinner and table discussions Friday evening.

The “Say Hello” Campaign has the goal of raising the awareness of all students of the impact of actions and words — even something as simple as saying hello — on another student’s daily life, according to Moore.

“The whole notion around the “Say Hello” campaign is that it’s a way for us to think about how we can do a small simple thing and start to interact with each other more,” Moore said.

Evening table discussions included a preview of the “A Focus on Tufts Initiative” discussion series.

“The series of focus groups is to help create counter-stories, stories that combat issues of racism, classism and other-isms,'” Acholonu said. “With these focus groups, we will compile qualitative data, so that administrators and policy-makers will be able to make decisions based on the information we give them.”

Acholonu added that the “A Focus on Tufts” discussions would be a large part of the Office of ISIP’s programming initiatives.  Future programming initiatives spearheaded by the Office of ISIP will also include the “A Look Within” Series, in which graduate students and professors will showcase their research to build relationships between students and faculty, and the “Your Voice Matters” Conversation Cafe, an opportunity for students to participate in small-group conversations concerning the Tufts community.

The role of the ten student ambassadors recruited to work with the Office of ISIP is to assist with the marketing of the Office of ISIP, serve as a liaison with Tufts student groups and the wider Tufts community, receive social justice and facilitation training and organize programs and initiatives planned by the Office of ISIP to ensure student input in programming, according to an email sent to students nominated by the director of fraternity and sorority affairs, Athletics directors, and Group of Six leaders.

“The activities in the Campus Center are an opportunity for students to hear about the [student ambassador] program,” Moore said. Moore mentioned the possibility of the role of ambassador becoming an application-based role next semester, with potential for work-study wages, as an on-campus job.

“I was thrilled to receive the email,” student ambassador KathrynSelcraig, a sophomore, said during the launch day break-out session event. “I want to be a part of this because having a broader conversation and dialogue about learning differences in people [and] structures of privilege [can] create a more inclusive environment.”

Student Response

Immediately after its inception, the Office of ISIP came under fire from students. Garcia assured students that the office is actively working to address their concerns.

“I’ve heard so many people saying things about ISIP — negative things, positive things, things they don’t know aboutISIP. Whether negative or positive, the only way I can make change is to know what is wrong, what’s missing,” Garcia said.

“There are many assumptions about it already. If you know what’s wrong, there are people in this program who are trying to address this problem. To automatically throw in [the] gutter, I don’t see how that makes any change,” she added.

Acholonu encouraged students to offer feedback for the office, rather than dismiss it entirely.

Cecilia Flores, a senior, attended the launch dinner and remains unclear of the exact purpose of the Office of ISIP and its functionality in the Tufts community.

“We talked [at the launch dinner] about how Tufts has a lot of resources, but how different students have different access. I know from first-hand experience that marginalized students do not have the same access to resources at Tufts and are affected by a lot of issues,” Flores said in an interview with the Daily, citing hate speech and KeithAblow’s statements at a lecture in the fall and how the lack of response left transgender students vulnerable, stigmatized and targeted. “I feel like the ISIP could be doing a much better job incorporating student leaders. The burden cannot be on the students but we need to have power and direction within this push because we are the ones that are affected.”

“We’re trying to gather as much input and feedback as possible,” Acholonu said.  “I want students to know that their voice matters to us, regardless of who they are or what they have to say … Through our connection to aspects of the administration, change can occur, if the students try to engage with the programs and speak their minds.”


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