Demanding Accountability: On Tufts’ Inauthentic Commitment to Anti-Racist Values

As a university, Tufts has abandoned its formal mission and core values. We as students have witnessed the university claim to uphold principles of anti-racism, freedom of expression, and equity, yet not practice them when given the opportunity. This has caused concern within the student body about the university’s sincerity and transparency. We, as student journalists, are disappointed by the university’s actions and are calling on Tufts to genuinely adhere to its claimed values in a transparent, swift manner.

Elizabeth Moore, (A’87), and former Tufts Observer staff member, shared her experience as a student journalist, specifically on the importance it held in creating a richer campus culture and the skills she learned. “We were there during the [anti-Apartheid] sit-in at Ballou Hall, [and for other] student protests that we were covering as the Observer,” she said. As far as the relationship between student journalists and the Tufts administration, Moore said, “It was the same in our times… [There] was a bit of a contentious relationship with the administration.”   

Tufts’ Media Relations has halted providing comment to the Observer and has asked administrators to do the same over concerns with the accuracy and fairness of the Observer’s reporting on the administration. The Observer is currently engaged in ongoing conversations with Tufts’ Media Relations regarding fairness of reporting. We are concerned by Media Relations prohibiting administrative staff from responding to Observer student journalists based on our editorial decisions. This is especially alarming considering Tufts officially recognizes “freedom of expression and inquiry are fundamental to the academic enterprise.” In the past, student journalists had direct contact with administrators, and Media Relations intervention was not required. The current process limits students’ direct access to administrators, creating an unnecessary barrier between those in power and the student body. As student journalists in an institution that promises freedom of expression, we deserve access and transparency from Tufts administrators.   

The Observer remains frustrated with the university’s relationship with student journalism and activism due to a history of tension between administrators and students who desire change at Tufts.  

In recent years, Tufts has neglected to listen to the student body’s concerns and support initiatives with large student support. For instance, this semester, Tufts declined to voluntarily recognize United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants (ULTRA) which has received official endorsements from Somerville City Council and Medford City Council, in addition to formal support from the TCU Senate and widespread support from Tufts community members. In fall 2020, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine and Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment passed two referenda questions through the Tufts Community Union special election with a majority of student support. The questions concerned the demilitarization of the Tufts University Police Department and a proposal for Tufts to divest from “corporations that profit off of the private prison system” respectively. Tufts ultimately refused to recognize the results of both referendums. Additionally, the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) declined to recognize caste as a category of discrimination despite widespread student-supported efforts to do so. Altogether, these instances point towards a university whose true values are more at odds with its students’ values than it is willing to admit.  

Tufts owes its students transparency in relation to issues faced by the institution, especially since Tufts’ mission statement directly posits “effective stewardship” as a priority for the university. Tufts also claims to center diversity and inclusion in its mission, saying that the school strives to create an environment of equal opportunity where all students, faculty, and staff may “thrive here and have opportunities to participate fully.” In the interest of its fellow Tufts community members, the Observer calls on Tufts to faithfully adhere to these promises.

This semester alone, the university has failed to live up to its mission in a variety of ways. The first example at the forefront of the minds of many students is the university’s lackluster diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) efforts. There have been allegations of DEIJ efforts being utilized for marketing purposes and internal conditions within various university offices being discriminatory

Tufts students, faculty, and staff have been alerted to allegations of a “toxic” work environment that has come to taint the experiences of numerous of Tufts’ administrative staff of color. Importantly, the allegations—as reported by the Tufts Daily—refer most seriously to the actions of senior members of faculty and staff and suggest that individuals such as Dean of Admissions JT Duck and provost ad interim Caroline Genco bear responsibility for propagating exclusionary values within the workplace. A university authentically concerned with ensuring diversity and inclusion would take these issues more seriously and address them with urgency. Additionally, the Office of the Provost houses the Office of DEIJ, indicating that Tufts is fundamentally paralyzed from carrying out DEIJ initiatives. This is particularly egregious and concerning when considering the university’s consistent rhetoric of anti-racism since the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

The ongoing “mass exodus” of faculty and staff of color suggests the university has failed in its written commitment to make Tufts a place where “all members of our community feel a sense of belonging and are empowered to contribute in ways that celebrate the most important parts of their identity.” Students suffer significantly as a result of the continued loss of BIPOC faculty and staff from the university.

Naturally, students are frustrated by the university’s lack of transparency. In a statement posted to their Instagram account @tuftspaa, Tufts’ Pan-Afrikan Alliance wrote, “What is shocking is the continued proclamation of Tufts University as an ‘anti-racist’ institution. There is a lack of transparency, accountability, and action to ensure that Black people on this campus feel safe, secure, and valued. The institution continues to tokenize and under-serve Black students, faculty, and staff.” In midst of this, the Observer supports initiatives from students of color that advocate for increased communication and transparency from the administration. 

Tufts Now, “your official source for news about Tufts University,” neglects to report on themes and issues that reflect the university in a negative light, such as allegations of discrimination within the Office of DEIJ. Instead, the publication appears to be primarily concerned with university achievements, which is not adequately representative of the scope of what is categorized as news. 

This highlights the need for student journalists to cover these issues. Based on her experience at the Observer in addition to her professional career, Moore said, “There’s always going to be someone that would like you to cover them in a favorable light. And the true mission of journalism is not necessarily to [do that]. PR is a different field than journalism for a reason.”  

On November 17, the editorial board of the Daily published an editorial condemning the institution for its failure to uphold anti-racist values as well as its continued lack of transparency. 

The Observer echoes the Daily’s concern and urgently calls on the university administration and newly announced President Sunil Kumar to prioritize transparency and communication between the administration and the student body. 

As Tufts elects its first person of color as president, the Observer editorial staff insists that new leadership goes beyond descriptive representation and truly put the values, needs, and ideals of its students first over optics. Per the Declaration on Freedom of Expression at Tufts University, “When community values are not respected, every member of the Tufts community has an obligation to respond.” It is the opinion of the Observer editorial staff that Tufts has not been respecting community values, and it is in this spirit that we demand more of the university. 

We voice these concerns because we know the university—the place we call home for four years—can, and must, do better.