Students, faculty, and community leaders came together for Tufts’ annual Presidential Symposium on Community Partnerships

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Community engagement is one of the central values of Tufts University. Each year, hundreds of Tufts students, faculty, and staff work side-by-side with community leaders and organizations in Medford, Somerville, Grafton, and Boston’s Chinatown. Their service projects, research, and capacity-building initiatives are a tremendous boon to both the university and its host communities.

On March 12, many of these campus and community leaders came together for our annual Presidential Symposium on Community Partnerships. Co-hosted by the Office of the President, the Office of Community Relations, and Tisch College, the event brought together close to 150 people committed to improving and increasing our civic engagement efforts.

“It was wonderful to meet Tisch faculty and also all the administrators that are involved; It’s really a wonderful outreach to the community,” said Janelle Chan, Executive Director of the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC). “I’m encouraged by the reaffirmation of how Tufts really wants to be a community partner.”

The turnout was striking in its diversity. In attendance were Tisch Scholars, Generation Citizen Democracy Coaches, and other Tufts undergraduates. Tufts faculty and staff from fields like Engineering, Health, and the Humanities also took part. They were joined by more than 70 representatives from myriad community organizations, groups like: the Somerville Homeless Coalition, BUILD, SomerPromise, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and countless others.

“I am heartened and very grateful that each and every one of you is taking time to engage with us in a dialogue about campus-community partnerships and opportunities for civic renewal,” said Tufts President Anthony Monaco in his opening remarks. “Due to your engagement and leadership, today and throughout the year, we make progress with community partnerships across virtually every school at Tufts.

Alan D. Solomont, attending his first Presidential Symposium as Dean of Tisch College, delivered the morning’s keynote address. “The relationships among all of you, students, faculty, and leaders in our shared communities, are the cornerstones of our civic engagement work,” he said. “Whether through student service learning or community-based research, we are at our best when we learn from each other and support each other.”

Dean Solomont spoke about the concept of civic renewal: the notion of strengthening civic engagement to solve our most serious social problems. He especially encouraged community leaders to build and nurture the civic networks and partnerships necessary to meet these difficult challenges.

“By sharing resources, strategies and goals, we can have a lasting, transformative effect on our communities and the world around us. Effective collaboration is essential to advancing civic renewal today and tomorrow.”

The theme of civic renewal resonated with many of the symposium’s attendees. “There is a definite role and need for civic engagement, at the most fundamental level of making it a part of a person’s identity, if you’re trying to solve serious problems,” said Dana Benjamin, a member of the Tisch College Community Partnerships Committee and Director of Program Quality and Partnerships for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middlesex County. Her colleague Lindsay Smythe, the organization’s executive director, was pleased with the focus on working together to achieve goals.

“One of the things I appreciate the most about a true collaboration or partnership is that the idea for a new program could be small or in-house, but once you start collaborating with others it can have a bigger impact,” she said.

Smythe also enjoyed the frank and fruitful table discussions about the often challenging nature of these working relationships and what it takes to make them successful. “True collaborations and partnerships do get messy sometimes,” she said. “But we know it’s a necessary component to engage with our community partners and other community leaders, and it’s important to be able to dive into it with eyes wide open, knowing that it can get tough, but that you can push through it and keep your identity as an organization while learning from others.”

Both Smythe and Benjamin praised Tufts’ commitment to its community partners, and its willingness to listen and improve when necessary. The same goes for Chan, who also serves on the Tisch College Community Partnerships Committee, and has worked closely with both graduate and undergraduate Tufts students at ACDC. She has been struck by their commitment to civic work, and believes that there are opportunities for stronger, more meaningful collaborations.

“It’s a great thing, and we would love for students to give even more hours to community work and look at longer-term projects that are sustainable, and that students can do whether for one year or two years,” said Chan.

“We’re looking forward to continuing partnerships,” she concluded. “We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do together.”