An Open Letter to the Friedman Senior Leadership on Dismantling White Supremacy

June 30, 2020

To Dean Dariush Mozaffarian:

Over the past month, the Friedman student community has critically reflected on the School’s responses to police brutality and systemic racism, and the resulting national protests. We are appalled by the Friedman School’s delayed and inadequate response to a situation that demands change: The ongoing racial violence and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, among innumerable other Black people by racist individuals, including law enforcement. The follow up letter from Dean Mozaffarian identified twelve actions that aimed to provide our community with relief and the hope of action. While this letter and further communications have started to provide details, they are insufficient and fall short of our collective obligations as a community.

The Friedman School is located in the white-centered city of Boston, which has an extensive history of racism, segregation, gentrification, and racially-charged violence. Our school both sits on land stolen from the Wôpanâak (Wompanoag) nation and takes up space in historical Chinatown. This history, coupled with the current lack of representation and feelings of belonging, renders our institution inherently unwelcoming to current and potential students, staff, and community members. While we are not able to right past injustices, we must acknowledge our history and take a proactive role in creating a welcoming environment to all students and faculty. Furthermore, we must take action, and hold ourselves to account, on the policies and procedures that keep us from being the diverse, equitable and inclusive institution (DEI) we seek to be.

Furthermore, structural racism is inherent in the inequities that we at the Friedman School aim to address in nutrition, public health, and the food system. We cannot reach our goal of improving the nutrition and wellbeing of populations around the world without first addressing systemic racism and the inherent white supremacy it is governed by. To create lasting positive change, Friedman must push societal boundaries and expectations within and beyond our institution. We hold ourselves accountable for our collective failure to act in the past, and demand more for ourselves and future generations. 

Addressing inequities in the work that we do must start with addressing them in our own selves and community. To begin dismantling the white supremacist system that undermines our social, civic, and scholarly goals, the Friedman School must support and empower people from marginalized populations, who have historically and at present experienced both open and subversive discrimination, specifically by creating space and advocating for Black voices. In this letter, we emphasize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In doing so we also acknowledge the importance of intersectionality, that every person has multiple aspects of their identity that coexist, interact, and confer varying degrees of power or powerlessness in any given situation. Others who may be oppressed by this system include, but are not limited to, people who identify as LGBTQ+, differently abled, low-income, first generation students, international students, undocumented, people who do not identify as cisgender and heterosexual male, and people who practice non-Christian religions and/or non-Western cultures. Building a DEI culture at the Friedman School requires active work to dismantle the dominant paradigm that upholds oppression in its many forms.

As such, we call for our Dean and leadership to make a commitment to the following actions that will foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community for all faculty, staff, and students.

Transparency & Accountability: While Friedman has stated its dedication to racial justice, and the Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (SJID) Committee has begun to formulate plans, we demand greater transparency and accountability throughout this process. Goals are easily lost over time unless systemic changes to our policies and procedures are made. We, as a community, must hold ourselves accountable. Friedman must provide transparency between leadership, faculty, staff, and students on strategies and actions taken and funding allocated to increase DEI. By implementing the following actions, Friedman will begin to build accountability and transparency into the system:

  1. Create a regularly-released report on initiatives, funding, and progress towards increasing DEI at Friedman that is made available to all faculty, staff, and students. This report should go beyond the current ad hoc updates from SJID and should include:
    1. A detailed summary of initiatives taken by the Friedman School Dean and leadership to increase DEI 
    2. A detailed summary of the frameworks and assessment tools developed to measure efforts to increase DEI at the Friedman School
    3. A detailed summary of progress towards increased DEI at the Friedman School (e.g., disclosure of student, faculty, and staff demographics and progress towards diversifying; number of hours of DEI and anti-white supremacy training administered for faculty, students, and staff; implementation of strategies to increase enrollment and retention of BIPOC students and faculty; the amount of scholarship funding allocated by group and division)
    4. Disclosure of funding sought and available for these initiatives (e.g., funding for recruitment of faculty and students of underrepresented backgrounds and research to address inequities in the food system) 
  2. Provide information regarding student participation on related committees (e.g., faculty search committees, student recruitment, school-wide DEI initiatives).

Students: At present, the Tufts student and faculty body is predominantly white. A diverse student body is critical to achieving the Friedman School mission of  “generat[ing] trusted science, educat[ing] future leaders, and produc[ing] real world impact in nutrition science and policy.” Over the years, students have raised concerns about the homogeneity of the Friedman student body, specifically in relation to the underrepresentation of BIPOC students, but no substantial changes have been made. Change is necessary, so we demand that the Friedman Dean and leadership take the following actions to increase DEI in the student body: 

  1. Create a College Affordability Action Plan to reduce tuition by at least 20% by 2025. High tuition is a leading barrier to higher education, especially for BIPOC. Tuition at the Friedman School has increased by 50 percent between SY 2013-14, when Dean Mozaffarian’s tenure began, and SY 2020-21. We will not reach our diversity goals if the tuition for a two year masters degree costs between $95,232 – $95,505 (SY 2020-2022 prices). With at least a 20% reduction in tuition price, the price would decrease to $76,186 – $76,404. The College Affordability Action Plan should be made public to students and staff and consist of strategic objectives to meet this goal.
  2. In addition to the two scholarships already proposed by the administration specifically for BIPOC students, create at least three additional full Master’s scholarships to be established for BIPOC or other vulnerable populations, totaling five scholarships. Scholarships must include full tuition, housing, and transportation costs. 
  3. Increase funding for recruitment and retention of BIPOC students, including targeted financial support, intentional recruitment, mentorship and professional opportunities within the Friedman School. The proportion of Friedman students who identify as non-white should reflect the demographics of the United States by 2025.
  4. Increase intentional marketing and promotion of Friedman programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as public colleges, universities, and community colleges. 
  5. Create and seek funding for a pipeline program, such as a summer residency research program and school year partnership with other Boston-based universities, for BlPOC undergraduates or graduate students to increase representation and equity of students from underrepresented backgrounds within the field of nutrition. 
    1. For example, the Friedman School may join the Leadership Alliance, which other Tufts Schools are already actively involved in. Further, the Friedman School may develop a summer enrichment program where students from underrepresented backgrounds may conduct research with Friedman faculty and receive housing and a research stipend, such as the Diversity Summer Internship Program at Johns Hopkins University 
  6. Allocate funding to pay graduate students to work on initiatives to increase DEI within the school and within the food system. 

Coursework & Learning Environment: To create a DEI culture, Friedman must promote pathways to promote learning and continue conversations regarding racism and social inequities. To achieve this, we advise the Friedman Dean and leadership to: 

  1. Increase the number of BIPOC speakers in the Friedman School Speaker Series and provide resources for and host regular seminars on the link between systemic racism and the Friedman School’s areas of focus, including nutrition, agriculture, food systems, epidemiology, and data science.
  2. Ensure that all Friedman coursework:
    1. Builds student understanding about systemic racism and injustice in the current food system
    2. Fosters critical reflection, discussion, and relevant skill-building so students are equipped to address systemic racism and injustice to build a better, more equitable food system 
    3. Includes literature by BIPOC authors 
    4. Uses intentional language that acknowledges the history of white supremacy in academia and offers appropriate alternatives 
    5. Engages BIPOC guest speakers
  3. Build one or multiple courses at the Friedman School that focus specifically on systemic racism and its intersections with nutrition, agriculture, food systems, epidemiology, and data science. 
  4. Adapt the master’s program internship requirement to provide more flexibility regarding internship eligibility (e.g., research or teaching experience), reduce the required number of hours, and make funding available to compensate students with a living wage. 

Faculty & Staff: Similar to the student body, the faculty and staff are largely white, which creates an unwelcoming school culture to BIPOC students, staff, and faculty. Additionally, faculty cannot be expected to meaningfully engage on initiatives to increase DEI at the Friedman School on unpaid time. By having to choose between standing up for justice and their academic reputations and paychecks, faculty and staff are placed in a vulnerable situation. To create a culture that prioritizes racial justice, we advise the Friedman Dean and leadership to:

  1. Increase funding for recruitment and retention of BIPOC faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars, including intentional recruitment, mentorship, and professional support within the Friedman School. 
  2. Evaluate and update hiring practices and standards to ensure that they are inclusive for BIPOC applicants. 
  3. Provide BIPOC faculty with intentional opportunities for promotion, tenure, and professional development.
  4. Allocate no less than 3-5% of faculty paid time to work on initiatives to increase DEI within the school and within the food system.  

Research & Initiatives: Historically academia, including Tufts University, has exploited vulnerable communities for research, including BIPOC communities. Exploitation has included extractive and predatory research, maintaining imbalances of power, unfair compensation, among other injustices. While it is not possible to change the injustices of past research, all research led by the Friedman School must promote the highest ethical standards and protections for research participants, and contribute to achieving equity and justice within the food system. As such, we advise the Friedman Dean and leadership adopt the following practices:

  1. Create mandatory guidelines for promoting equity, inclusion, and community partnership within all domestic and international research at Friedman, including:
    1. Ensuring that all community-based research contributes to goals held by the community 
    2. Requiring that research does not exploit communities, and neither contributes to white saviorism nor neocolonial ideals 
    3. Providing equitable compensation for all participants involved in Friedman School research 
    4. Establishing transparency in research aims, data use, and dissemination with target populations and community members
    5. Engaging and elevating the voices of community members throughout the research process
    6. Contributing to capacity-building within local communities on relevant topics 
  2. Incentivize and provide support for faculty members to seek funds devoted to conducting research related to structural racism and/or in collaboration with underrepresented groups, including BIPOC to foster a more DEI food system.

Public Advocacy & Community Engagement: The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy should put racial equity and social justice at the forefront of how it interacts with the public and our community, both within the Friedman School and in our surrounding areas. To demonstrate expertise and provide guidance on these issues, the Friedman Dean and leadership should: 

  1. Use their privilege and time by speaking out in diverse public forums (e.g., popular media, blogs, academic journals, etc.) to advocate for justice, equity, and systems-level change in the food system. Friedman is already a strong public voice on many issues related to the food system and nutrition, and should be a public leader on how structural racism, and DEI relate to our work.
  2. Promote an overall culture of equity at the Friedman School. This culture should start with continual attention and reflection by the School’s top leaders. 
    1. Establish mandatory, quarterly trainings and discussion seminars through the SJID regarding how students, faculty, and staff can act as allies to end white supremacy and promote DEI in research.
    2. Establish an anonymous reporting system for acts of racism or microaggressions experienced by students, staff, or faculty within the Friedman School, and establish a committee to investigate and address these complaints. Hire an ombudsperson outside of SJID and the Dean’s office to oversee these reports. 
  3. Invest and create more partnerships with BlPOC owned businesses and nonprofits in Boston. For example, seek BIPOC-owned restaurants to cater Friedman events. 
  4. Launch a campaign to seek donations to the Friedman School that are focused on supporting DEI initiatives at the School.
  5. Listen to and support the demands to defund and disarm Tufts University Police Department from Tufts for Black Lives.

Responding to these demands will support the Friedman School in dismantling white supremacist culture and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within our school and beyond. We look forward to working in partnership with the Friedman School leadership to achieve these outcomes. 

In solidarity, 

The Student Alliance & 228 Signatures from Students and Alumni