The Friedman Justice League’s Response to the Strategic Plan Launch

by The Friedman Justice League

The Friedman Justice League (FJL) assesses how the recent unveiling of the Friedman School’s Strategic Plan aligns with its own goals and vision for the future, and offers input on how the plan can be effectively implemented. FJL’s internal goals are also expressed, and all Friedman students are welcomed to engage with these efforts, as they please!

Introduction

People of color and low-income people are more likely to experience the injustices perpetrated on both the production and consumption ends of the food system. Having broad racial and class representation in the Friedman School is key to producing alumni who can effectively navigate these issues throughout their careers. Therefore, Friedman Justice League (FJL) student group is eager to promote more diversified representation in our school community.

Last fall, FJL members gathered to conduct a visioning process, through which the group agreed on clear goals for engaging in the school’s Strategic Planning process. Our members served on several working groups and collaborated with other students, staff, and faculty to foster active engagement throughout the School. This planning process and our engagement with the administration over the past many years have led to numerous promising outcomes, including positive relationships with supportive members of the administration and increased opportunities to engage with faculty about curriculum improvements. Two FJL members sit on the Friedman School Diversity Task Force, and FJL members also helped plan the recent diversity and inclusion training at the Boston Health Science campus.

During the Strategic Plan Launch on November 15, we heard from President Monaco, Provost Harris, and Dean Mozaffarian about the Friedman School’s plan for advancing its mission “from cell to society.” Many of our members were present to listen, take notes, and pose questions. As a student organization committed to improving our School’s ability to address issues of discrimination and oppression within the food system, we paid particularly close attention to the  Strategic Plan goals that coincide with our own:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-4-26-45-pm

Recognition

We acknowledge that the Strategic Plan includes many goals that align and overlap with some of our personal and group values, and are particularly supportive of Goals II, V, X, and XI, which we advocated for within the working groups. FJL specifically encourages the Friedman School to infuse these values in all of its goals by raising consciousness about justice and equity through its curricula and public impact actions. Dean Mozaffarian emphasized the role students played during the planning process in driving social justice priorities to the surface, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the plan. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Strategic Plan, as we monitor and support the implementation of these goals.

Furthermore, we are optimistic about the progress that is currently being made within Friedman’s Diversity Task Force, which has been working to establish a formal School structure to actualize the Strategic Plan goals related to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. The Task Force is comprised of the Academic Dean of Education, the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs*, the Associate Director of Admissions, one faculty member, one staff member, and two current FJL members.  The Diversity Task Force has already begun to generate innovative approaches for more targeted recruitment of students with diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. We look forward to continuing to work alongside the Task Force to recruit, support, and retain future leaders from historically oppressed groups in our society.

Promising Progress, Poised for Action

In the Strategic Plan’s introductory video, the Dean states: “We will also emphasize and integrate principles of social justice, inclusion, and diversity into every facet of what we do.” We applaud the incorporation of this broad commitment. However, the discussion during the launch focused primarily on advancing this commitment through increased integration of diversity and justice issues into the curriculum.

We are also interested in hearing more about the School’s specific plans to address the lack of diversity in the composition of our school, and we hope to see increased representation of communities of color and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in the future. Dean Mozaffarian mentioned the importance of Friedman alumni to the advancement of our School’s values. Like our current students, our School’s alumni are primarily white. World-class leadership from our students and alumni will require that our student body and faculty be composed of people whose lived experiences provide a complex understanding of the successes and challenges of our food system. The Dean’s continued discussion of diversity both in promotional materials and during the launch is promising, and we hope that the School’s commitment to this goal becomes clearer in the near future.

Opportunities for Improvement

The translation of these goals and objectives into measurable improvement is the next step in ensuring a more diverse and well-equipped student body, network of alumni, and faculty. It is important that the School’s efforts to advance diversity and inclusion be rooted in humility. To effect real change, the School must fully and genuinely recognize its starting point in its goal of “expand[ing] and diversify[ing] our student body to train future leaders in nutrition science, policy, and practice” (Goal X). In this vein, it is important that the School accurately present the racial and ethnic demographic data of its current student body, which will serve as an accurate baseline for monitoring future progress. We did not feel that such a presentation was provided during the launch. For example, the graduation photo on Friedman by the Numbers (Page 16 of the Strategic Plan), is suggestive of greater demographic diversity than the current composition of the School. Data on the School’s racial and ethnic makeup exist but were not provided as part of Friedman by the Numbers. These data are presented on the Tufts University Diversity Dashboard, and the numbers paint a very different picture than the image chosen for the Strategic Plan’s promotion. Given that these data are available, we are disappointed that they were not presented alongside the other relevant data about our school’s current composition. It is critically important that the School take an honest accounting of its starting composition and avoid celebrating a diverse makeup that is not yet a reality.

Responsibility & Transparency

All members of the Friedman community share responsibility in the creation of a just and inclusive learning and working environment at the School, and we recognize that this is an important and dynamic moment in the School’s history. With regard to the diversity and inclusion-related goals in the plan, we see both great potential for our school to become a social justice leader, and we also recognize the great challenges that lie ahead.

Given the complexity of addressing systems of oppression through institutional action, we would like to know how the administration plans to delegate responsibility for the implementation of these goals, and are curious about how it will engage the Friedman community in the process of setting qualitative and quantitative metrics for advancing the aims of the Strategic Plan. We recognize that this work is difficult. Significant gains will require the focused and sustained engagement of skillful individuals working within the School’s own system. As such, we advocate for the hiring of at least one dedicated professional capable of advancing the diversity and inclusion-related goals. Schools on the Boston Health Sciences Campus have similar models, in which a designated administrator is focused on such issues. Dr. Joyce Sackey, for example, is the Dean of Multicultural Affairs at the School of Medicine.

We also support the creation of more streamlined, accessible, and transparent communication networks between the administration and the broader student body during the implementation process. One example that the School could emulate comes from our neighbor, Northeastern University (NEU). NEU recently demonstrated both humility and transparency while engaging their community broadly during the University’s recent diversity and inclusion action planning process. We think Friedman would benefit from creating a similar forum for students, staff, and faculty to discuss the process of operationalizing the Strategic Plan’s goals moving forward. Countless other examples of innovative anti-racism actions by higher education institutions exist, and we look forward to seeing which method Friedman adopts as we work to help the School advance its goals.

FJL’s 2016-17 Vision

In October, the Friedman Justice League (FJL) conducted its own visioning process to set priorities for the year. Members shared their personal visions for justice in the world as well as their ideas on the role of the Friedman School and FJL in realizing these visions. The discussion was distilled into three key outcomes:

  1. A plan for internal and external priorities that includes a focus on labor in the food system, examined through educational activities, advocacy campaigns, and curriculum enhancement;
  1. A commitment to engagement with the student body in a more inclusive manner, in an effort to develop broader coalitions around our goal of integrating social justice into all spheres at Friedman; and
  1. A strategic framework for FJL’s programming and activism expressed by the diagram below:
fjlConclusion

In alignment with our own visioning process, FJL remains committed to working with the administration to build on the momentum and traction we have generated together toward social justice and diversity. We remain steadfast in our determination to hold school decision-makers accountable for the goals set forth in the plan. The School’s renewed commitment to innovation, public impact, and social justice are now more important in light of the current political climate, and Friedman is well positioned to make a significant impact within our community and beyond. Now is the time to transform these words into actions, and FJL stands at the ready to support the School in ensuring that its laudable goals around diversity, inclusion, and social justice become its practice.

*Correction, December 6, 2016: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the title of one of the Diversity Task Force members. Matthew Hast used to be the Associate Director of Student Affairs, but is now the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs. The article above has been corrected for this error. – Editors

The Friedman Justice League seeks to make our community more diverse and find ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs. To get involved with our discussions, events, and campaigns learn more here or email caitlin.joseph@tufts.edu to be added to the listserv.

 

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