Referendum Results Ignored
Tufts Cannot Be Anti-Racist Until We End the Deadly Exchange
In a historic special election this past November, Tufts students voted to pass the first referendum on any college campus in the US to end the Deadly Exchange. The Deadly Exchange refers to the exchange of strategies and tactics between American law enforcement and Israeli forces. The vote reflected overwhelming support among students, with 68 percent of students voting to end all military training trips abroad for campus police. Furthermore, the referendum had the highest turnout of any election in Tufts’ history, with over 40 percent of the student body participating in the vote. In coalition with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment (TREE) also passed a referendum calling on the university to divest from private prisons. While this was a victory for justice movements from the US to Palestine, the administration’s refusal to pursue any action following the referendum displays their hypocrisy and carelessness towards students.
In response to the passage of the referendum, Patrick Collins, the Executive Director of Public Relations at Tufts, pushed the same tired lie that the Anti-Defamation League sponsored trip to Israel attended by former Chief of Tufts University Police Department Kevin Maguire in 2017 “was not a military training program, nor was it intended to serve as an endorsement of any particular policy or policing strategy.” By sending not only an officer but the highest-ranking member of the TUPD on a certain training program, the administration is endorsing that program’s strategies. The claim that the trip was not militarized has been disproven time and time again, including by The Tufts Daily and the ADL’s own website. The university should not minimize the gravity of this trip. Our former police chief met with members of a military that may soon be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Even if an investigation doesn’t occur, Maguire still met with “security” forces that openly use racial profiling on minorities, particularly Palestinians.
Collins also stated that the administration has “received no requests from staff to attend the ADL program since that time, and therefore there are no plans to participate in the future.”
The administration is trying to subtly distance itself from an unethical and harmful trip without actually taking accountability. However, our referendum not only demanded that Tufts prohibit TUPD officers from attending militarized international training trips, but also that prior attendees of such trips not be hired. The administration has not addressed either of these demands, exemplifying how their supposedly progressive politics consistently exclude anything related to justice for Palestinians.
Approaching the 2020 presidential election, the Tufts administration emphasized their belief in voting as a vital form of civic engagement. In emails to the Tufts community, President Monaco lauded students and staff who were “raising their voices for what they believe” and working to engage voters. The administration repeatedly underscored that democracy and civic leadership are at the heart of Tufts as an institution. Monaco said, “whatever the outcome of the election, I assure you that this university will stay true to its commitments to democracy, anti-racism, and civic leadership.” In contrast, the Tufts administration’s antagonistic response to the referendums demonstrates the hypocrisy of their supposed commitment to democracy and civic engagement. Despite their praise of civic leadership and voiced commitments to anti-racism, when the civic leaders are Black and brown students, Tufts is quick to abandon these commitments—especially when students are pushing for change that does not benefit Tufts as a private, predominantly white institution. Furthermore, when Tufts ignores students mobilizing around an issue and rejects the results of a majority-won vote, they discourage students from wanting to be civically engaged. Ultimately, the Tufts administration is committed to civic engagement and democracy until the democratic process challenges them to confront the white supremacy inherent to the institution and take steps to tangibly address the harm they have caused.
The administration’s refusal to engage with these demands is just one of the many limits we have seen in Tufts’ supposedly progressive politics. Tufts brands itself as a university where students collaborate across intellectual traditions, faiths, and ethnicities. The administration’s superficial commitment to these ideas, however, is exemplified in their treatment of student activist groups on campus. Last spring, SJP was given the Collaboration Award by the Office of Campus Life. In response, the administration condemned the award, claiming SJP was antisemitic for supporting Palestinian rights. The administration’s statement incited racist attacks against SJP online, which were revived leading up to the referendum vote. Despite these attacks, the End the Deadly Exchange Coalition, a coalition of over 40 student groups, still managed to engage the student body and pass the referendum.
Tufts frequently states in emails to the student body that the university is committed to being an anti-racist institution, and that the administration is doing the necessary work to eradicate racism from our community. However, we have yet to see explicit plans or proposed changes that are tangible rather than idealistic. Although there are 180 recommendations across five workstreams, the university is only tackling the issues that lie on the surface, as opposed to more complex and structural issues. Here, the phrase “anti-racist” functions solely to absolve Tufts of accountability when it comes to discrimination on campus. If the university’s true intention is to actively mobilize against racism, we would not only see avenues of justice that don’t involve policing, but we would see collaboration between the administration and communities on campus that engage in activism. The Department of Race, Colonialism and Diaspora, in conjunction with the Women’s Center, the Africana Center, the Latinx Center, and many other groups on campus have dedicated themselves to creating spaces for open discussion about equity and inclusion on campus. Though there has been a lot of talk, the administration’s minimal collaboration with these groups has not resulted in tangible actions. Throughout history, activist clubs on campus have pinpointed ways that Tufts can improve campus life for marginalized groups. Listening to these groups is not enough—the administration must actually implement their suggestions.
Even outside of our referendum, when activist groups make direct demands of the administration, the response is always silence, inaction, or performative statements. In 2011, the Pan Afrikan Alliance called for the university to improve resource allocation for Black students, implement faculty cultural competency trainings, and create an Africana studies major. Instead of acquiescing to these demands, the administration formed a task force and a diversity council, neither of which was explicitly asked for. In 2018 alone, 11 faculty members of color left Tufts, spotlighting the covert racism that our institution holds. In order for Tufts to adhere to the values that the administration claims to uphold, they will need to fully implement the actionable and feasible steps that student groups, faculty, and underrepresented groups on campus have outlined.
Tufts’ goal in working towards becoming anti-racist, as stated by Professor Abi Williams, is to address the virus of racism that has been plaguing the institution for a long time. Tufts is not plagued with a disease of racism; rather, as an elite private institution, it is defined by it. Tufts itself was built on stolen land and was the site of the Ten Hills plantation. However, our physical space is only one example of white supremacy embedded into the very foundation of this university. The SJP and TREE referenda are, unfortunately, one of the many instances in which the university has failed in its mission of becoming anti-racist. Anti-racism seems like a good framework, but we should interrogate Tufts’ actual goals when it says it’s trying to be anti-racist. Not only is it failing to be anti-racist, it should strive to be more. Tufts needs to address the root causes of racial inequality by turning to a framework of anti-imperialism and explicitly dismantling white supremacy.
An anti-imperialist perspective would allow us to see how all of these things are connected. It is counterintuitive to invest $25 million into anti-racist initiatives while failing to acknowledge the militarization of TUPD through these training trips. The student body has no idea where this money will go. Even with the presentation of these initiatives, there is no clear timeline of when they will be implemented. If the university’s actual goal is to address structural oppression, it must move away from surface-level frameworks like anti-racism and interrogate Tufts’ legacy of white supremacy. Let us not look at this moment twenty years from now and credit the administration for supporting the student activists it’s actively pushing against. The SJP referendum shows that Tufts students want structural change. The administration’s failure to comply leaves blood on its hands.