The Pan-Afrikan Alliance takes a Stand
“Do you think Tufts is an anti-racist institution?”
It was the first community dialogue hosted by the Pan-Afrikan Alliance this year, a group dedicated to furthering the political well-being of the black diaspora. The question came from a discussion leader as he stood in front of a group of students spread around the lounge of the Africana Center. Really, the question was not meant to create debate, and the collective groan around the room that elicited a cheeky grin from the leader made that apparent. One by one, a steady flow of grievances spilled from the students’ mouths. It was a veritable torrent of the various ways black students felt wronged by this institution, and each sentence was accompanied by their peers’ hoots and finger snaps of approval. Each issue built upon the next, and you could see each student becoming more impassioned, more deliberate in every word.
If you haven’t already caught on, the answer to that question was a very hard “no.” For those of us in tune with the black political conscience at Tufts, this isn’t exactly surprising news. Black students are angry. And they want to be heard.
The mountain of grievances black students have had with Tufts has a long and extensive history, but the Pan-Afrikan Alliance has selected from among them some core issues that resonate with the black student body. These include the insensitive behavior of JT Duck, Dean of Admissions, the lack of transparency in Office of Equal Opportunity reports on racist attacks and hate crimes, the departure of Diversity leaders Rob Mack and Joyce Sackey under the reign of Provost Caroline Genco, and, most importantly, the utter failure that is Tufts’ retention of black faculty and staff. These issues have been condensed into a public statement, and we will be proceeding with a TCU resolution to emphasize our commitment to the effort.
It seems every other month students’ inboxes are graced with an email directly from the Tufts OEO. The contents will give a bare-bones snippet of a reported racially motivated or antisemitic attack, followed by a stock response that tells us not to worry—Tufts is on the case. Shockingly, this has not at all resolved the black student body’s concerns over how hate crimes are handled. Attacks are treated with utmost secrecy, as the primary goal of the investigation is to protect Tufts. After the initial email, students are provided no communication on how the incident is treated, and students whose identity group is harmed are never consulted on how Tufts can make the university a safer and more welcoming space for them.
How did this attack happen? What was the severity of the situation? These are among the questions that are never answered. In the PAA meeting, students mentioned their lack of confidence in the OEO’s ability to resolve these issues. The popular sentiment is that our concerns are swept under the rug, and that we should look for alternatives to counteract this dismissal. The fact that black students, some not even old enough to call themselves adults, are pitching ideas to protect themselves speaks to the abject failure that is the OEO’s relationship with the black student body.
Tufts’ OEO is far from the only issue students have with the Tufts administration. The interim Provost and Vice President of Tufts have been mentioned many times during PAA meetings. Caroline Genco’s term has overseen a large departure in staff in the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at Tufts. The Tufts Daily reported on her contentious reputation, marked by workplace hostility and racial ignorance. Within a couple months of her term, Tufts had lost two of its chief diversity officers. Students were not notified of their departures. Furthermore, Genco does not seem to value the input of black leaders on Tufts’ race relations. The Juneteenth Planning Committee at Tufts, a group consisting of African American leaders, submitted a resolution on May 3 questioning the intent of Tufts’ observation of the holiday. The Juneteenth committee was concerned the university had not considered the opinions of the black student body on whether they wished for the institution to go through with the half-day of programming. The resolution also outlined that the short length of the programming was contradictory to its sentiment of commemorating the holiday.
The Juneteenth Planning Committee extended an offer to meet with the Provost in hopes of creating a productive dialogue surrounding the programming. The Provost showed up to the meeting with the head of Human Relations at Tufts in tow in a show that, according to S. Rae Peoples, an associate director of diversity and inclusion education and member of the Juneteenth committee, was reasonably interpreted as “intimidation” and a “posturing of power of the committee.” Committee members reported being deeply offended by the way the dialogue unfolded during the meeting. They depicted the events of the meeting to be “disheartening, scolding, thrashing, and frightening.” For the meeting between black leaders and one of the members of Tufts’ upper echelon to be characterized with such abrasive language speaks to the fraught relationship this “anti-racist” institution has with the black community.
The rampant culture of racial insensitivity runs deep, and it’s no shock to black students that this trend continues when the topic turns to the Dean of Admissions, JT Duck. According to a Tufts Daily article, Duck has been responsible for creating a climate current and former employees describe as “racist, sexist, transphobic, and antisemitic.” From the start of his tenure at Tufts in June 2019, Duck has overseen the departure of at least 22 employees from the offices of admissions. Nine of the current and former workers described the work culture as “toxic.” There have been multiple complaints submitted to the OEO concerning reports of Duck “[ignoring] discrimination allegations and [punishing] people who criticized him.” The Dean of Admissions’ tenure has clearly been characterized by an approach that runs contrary to any form of anti-racism. The PAA believes his continued behavior and the blatant lack of accountability are unacceptable; what does it say about Tufts to be reflective of a system upheld by a misuse of power?
It is clear Tufts’ upper management has a history of insulating the superiors from allegations of discrimination and toxicity against minority rank-and-file staff, but nowhere does this phenomenon become more apparent than the retention rate of black staff. With black faculty increasingly suffocated by a work culture that views them as expendable, there has been an alarming rate of departures from minority staff specifically, as reported by the Tufts Observer. Reasons for departure range from there being “no accountability procedures for managers to follow,” to working at Tufts being described as so suffocating that leaving was “to gain some respite from experienc[ing] unrelenting discrimination.” To think that the work atmosphere at Tufts would ever be described as actively hostile to minorities is an embarrassing blot on the record of this institution. Black students want to see themselves in Tufts’ management and staff. In a setting that actively chases out the people that resonate with our beings, there is a feeling of utter dejection.
Complacency with Tufts’ harmful actions, ones that are veritably adversarial with the well-being of black students and faculty, has been going on for long enough. The PAA is in the process of drafting a Tufts Community Union resolution to highlight these moral failures. These include addressing and creating a detailed, transparent plan to identify the lack of faculty and staff retention and remedy it, discussing the nature of the OEO’s reports, and having an even-handed and mutual dialogue between the Tufts administration and black campus organizations. We’ve already created a public statement addressing some major concerns, and the majority of black student groups at Tufts have signed on in support. The collective effort in trying to shake the foundation of a centuries-old institution is monumentally difficult, but as black students have shown time and time again, we’ll be there on the frontlines. Because unfortunately, as always, we have to be.
With regard to the future, Tufts is in the process of a transfer of power at the presidential level. Incoming President Sunil Kumar will be overseeing a tumultuous institution that, to black students, is steeped in racial scandal. We wish him the best in his term and hope for him to be the shake-up that Tufts sincerely needs. We hope his status as the first president of color will inform his choices and make Tufts a more hospitable place for diversity in body and thought.
On the flip side, we will be watching closely, as always, for however long Tufts gives us a reason to.