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Trouble in 96 Packard

Campus | November 3, 2014

“I never felt fully comfortable with the Institute [for Global Leadership’s] existence: it was filled with students who cared solely about building their resumes and benefiting from the IGL’s academic capital,” reads one blog post on Tufts IGL Students Speak Out, one of two blogs formed last April to comment on issues within the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL).

While Tufts IGL Students Speak Out centers on criticisms of the IGL, Tufts IGL Students provides a space for students to post varied testimonies.

Tufts’ IGL will be celebrating its 30th anniversary next year. The IGL runs a variety of programs, including the discussion group Synaptic Scholars and the Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) class, designed to give students an understanding of challenges of global security and international relations. It also provides funding for students to do research abroad.

Founding Director Sherman Teichman commented that the IGL has evolved significantly since its inception. “In 1985 [the IGL was] a single program—a one day symposium on the theme of international terrorism, derived from a month-long Experimental College seminar,” he said. “We are now a multidisciplinary Institute with scores of distinctive programs [and] a worldwide reputation.”

The Institute has had speakers including Nobel laureates, President Martii Ahtassari of Afghanistan, Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi, and Desmund Tutu.

“Our programs revolve around understanding the complexities of the most pressing issues of global security, and they are acknowledged worldwide for their depth and breadth as well as the ‘real world’ opportunities provided for students,” said Teichman.

On April 25th, a group of students sent a letter to President Tony Monaco, deans at the University, and the IGL staff. Their intent was to register a series of grievances and propose reforms to the IGL. At the same time, they founded Tufts IGL Students Speak Out, with the mission to create “s space for students to critique and share stories of problematic encounters with the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership.” The blog’s 16 posts, ranging from a few sentences to several paragraphs, are all anonymous, as are the creators of the blog.

Many of the grievances listed on the blog are about the alleged discrimination of women and students of color by the IGL. The organizers claim that these students have less access to funding and opportunities provided to their white and male counterparts, and that the IGL is insensitive to those who have work obligations or financial constraints. Students also take issue with the alleged exoticization of people from the global south, one-sided view of the US military, and glorification of Western humanitarian aid intervention.

Another issue students raise about the Institute is the imperialist attitude they see it promoting through its programs. One post reads: “The IGL and ALLIES supports US racist hegemony and imperialism, there’s nothing ‘Global’ about it outside of the fact that they want to invade the whole globe.”

An EPIIC alumnus, who asked to remain anonymous, criticized the IGL’s tendency to send inexperienced students to remote countries to complete research projects. “It really becomes a lot of students intellectually masturbating for two hours twice a week, not asking how can I as a nineteen year old student go to Jordan and change the world?” he said.

He specifically criticized the lack of cultural sensitivity and social justice education in the class, saying, “They don’t talk about race, class, gender, heteronormativity, ableism, etc., but yet they’re going into countries trying to address these issues when they can’t confront them on their campus. If you can’t talk about it in line at Hodgdon, you’re probably not ready to go address it in a refugee camp.”

Several of the demands listed are personal attacks on Sherman Teichman, the founding director of the IGL, calling for his resignation and claiming he has an outsized influence on the organization. Others include making records public, setting benchmarks for the participation of students of color, and making their grant process more transparent.

In response to Tufts IGL Students Speak Out refusal to post her IGL positive comments, Junior Gia Rowley founded an alternative blog, Tufts IGL Students. Her purpose was to make a site for students to post any comments they had about the IGL rather than promote a specific agenda related to the Institute.

Last year Rowley participated in EPIIC, for which students take an ExCollege class on a subject (this year it is Russia in the 21st Century) and then design a symposium during Spring semester. She particularly values the community the class created and the unique opportunities the IGL provides.

“I became really close with people in my EPIIC class, and that just doesn’t really happen in classrooms anymore today,” said Rowley. “Sherman gives us access to people who are really out there doing things, like they’re at the table when governments and NGOs and IGOs make decisions that affect the world. They’re the photographers and journalists who are doing life-changing work. Undergraduates really just don’t get that at other universities.”

Tufts IGL Students’ 24 posts are from students and alumni, many of whom give their names and connections to the IGL. Some respond directly to posts made on the other blog, give personal experiences, or express confusion at the debate in general. Many raise concerns at the methods Tufts IGL Students Speak Out use to raise their issues. Tufts IGL Students call for a more direct conversation between the students and the IGL to solve the problems.

“I completely support students speaking up if they feel uncomfortable or frustrated, but I do not think that such a cruel and radical attack is the way to approach it,” wrote EPIIC alumna Amanda Paez.

Others point out factual inaccuracies in the posts of Tufts IGL Students Speak Out, such as claims that students are asked to skip work to fulfill their IGL commitments.

“[The IGL] get[s] into the real issues—the messiness, complexity, and ugliness of it all,” wrote EPIIC alumnus Negar Razavi on Tufts IGL Students. “Of course there will be disagreement, frustration, discomfort, and perhaps even anger at other students, at the speakers who come, and perhaps even towards the IGL and the people who run it, as we go through this challenging, but one-of-a-kind thought experiment.”

Teichman declined to comment on the content of the anonymous blogs. The Institute has recently hired an executive director and Teichman and his colleagues are currently focusing on new programing and making the organization more efficient.

Tufts IGL Students Speak Out has not made any posts since May, and there has been no confrontation between the blogs or with the IGL. The IGL debate brings up the issue of how students express their concerns about campus institutions. Both blogs have significant points that can contribute to improving an important program, and their choice of platform evidences a growing trend of virtual protest.  Such a platform democratizes the process by increasing the scope and reach of voices, but anonymity can result in a lack of accountability and tends toward extremism.  Thus far, the blogs have been more effective in provoking discussion than in creating institutional change.