Beyond Child's Play
As one of eight siblings, Tufts graduate Ify Mora entered college with plenty of experience interacting with children. Now, after four years at Tufts, she also has plenty of experience advocating for them.
For Ify Moraís parents, deciding what to name their daughter entailed far more than just flipping through a baby names book.
"In Nigeria, when youíre born, youíre not named immediately - there are a couple of days when you donít have a name," says Mora, whose parents moved to the United States from Nigeria. "My dad spent a lot of time meditating and praying for something that our ancestors would say is part of my spirit."
The name Moraís parents decided on - Ifeyinwa Nneka Ezidilim Mora - has indeed turned out to be prophetic. In fact, it could well be her motto.
"Most people are actually not surprised when I tell them what my name means," says Mora, who graduated from Tufts in May and grew up in Columbus, Ohio with her parents and seven siblings. "My name means, basically, 'There is nothing better than a child.'"
Mora made a career out of living up to her name during her four years at Tufts. As one of Tufts' University College of Citizenship and Public Service (UCCPS) Scholars, the onetime quantatitive economics major (who once dreamed of working at the World Bank or the IMF) made focusing on childrensí issues - and on broader national and international issues that also affect children - her top priority.
"In general, when people think about kids, they think kids and drugs or teenage pregnancy," says Mora, who became especially attuned to the effects of cultural and social problems on youth during a high school trip to Venezuela in which she worked with children. "We need to be more creative and look at society's issues and how kids are affected, even if it's indirectly."
While a student at Tufts, Mora created a forum - Childrenís Awareness Week - in which people were encouraged to view issues like the Middle East conflict and media influence through a child-advocacy lens. Events focusing on childhood obesity, spirituality and arts education were also held.
"I think people are sensitive to how minorities are affected, or other groups which have more of a voice," Mora says. "But I donít think people really think about how kids are affected."
The idea for Childrenís Awareness Week came to Mora during her sophomore year, shortly before she left to study abroad in Madrid.
"I had organized an evening forum on foster care here in Massachusetts," she says. "Part of me was like, 'That was great.' But it was a night, and then people left and I left, and who takes on from here? I literally stopped and was like, I could."
After returning from Madrid - where, unsurprisingly, she worked with children, teaching English to six year-olds - Mora worked with dozens of faculty from across the University to design the week-long Children's Awareness Week program. She also recruited a group of students to bring the project to life.
"It was time consuming, enriching, and motivating - those are the big three," she says. "Children's Awareness Week became my life, literally. I ate, breathed and slept it - every minute of the day, which I think for me was surprising because I've always worked a lot on a lot of different projects."
"Not only does UCCPS push you to think and be critical about society, but they push you to do something to make that situation better.They push for non-complacency: 'Go volunteer and think about what you can do to be more effective.' Through it all, they give you the support system, the skills, the drive and motivation to help you to do that."
Mora's creation of Childrenís Awareness Week - coupled with her previous work promoting racial diversity and cultural appreciation as treasurer of the Pan-African Alliance and a member of the University's Bias Intervention team - earned her the Tufts 2004 Presidential Award, which is given annually to students who have displayed socially conscious leadership skills and ideals.
Though the Tufts community has distinguished Mora as a leader, she credits the Tufts environment with helping Children's Awareness Week take a life of its own.
"Here at Tufts, itís really easy to jump into everything because those networks are available to you," she says. "Not only can you see, this needs to be done, but you can also see a way to do it. Once you see a way to do it, it's actually more compelling to get it done.
"I love this school because people are really motivated - you can really explore your interests," she adds. "People are very independent; they push themselves. If you push yourself, you can do amazing stuff, and I love that."
The opportunities available to motivated students played a key role in Moraís decision to attend Tufts.
"When I came here for April Open House, I remember a particular professor said, 'Tufts is a place of opportunity. If you are a student who's motivated and willing, then you'll learn so much about yourself,'" she says. "I was excited because thatís what I am - I knew this was just for me! More than anything, Tufts has motivated me and assured me that I'm going in the right direction. Whatever comes out of this is meant to be."
Mora's "thinking-bigger" mindset coincides perfectly with her four-year connection to UCCPS. She was invited to join the University College in her freshman year as part of the Scholars program, which is designed to foster socially active and socially involved citizens.
"Not only does UCCPS push you to think and be critical about society, but they push you to do something to make that situation better," she says. "They push for non-complacency: 'Go volunteer and think about what you can do to be more effective.' Through it all, they give you the support system, the skills, the drive and motivation to help you to do that. It's a life-changing program for many people."
Mora counts herself among those many.
"When something changes your life, it's different then when something changes the way you look at life," she says. "University College doesn't just jump in and change the way you live, it changes the way you see yourself, the way you look at life."
Now that she's graduated, Mora has turned her attention to her future. Though her consciousness and outlook are global, she plans to remain in the Boston area for at least the next few years.
"I'm at this point in my life where Iíve spent a lot of time going places, and for once I want to stay," she says. "I see here a lot of potential things I could do - in Boston there are so many non-profits doing amazing work."
And doing "amazing work" that raises awareness of childrens' issues - including gang and school violence, mental health, and bilingual education in immigrant communities - is just how Mora plans to spend her life.
"[I'd like to] do what I'm doing, but take it to a whole new level," she says. "I donít really have an 'end of the road, this is the job that I want.' It's more like, 'At the end of the road, I hope to feel this way.'"
Profile written by Patrice Taddonio, Class of 2006
Patrice Taddonio, a native of Holland, Pennsylvania, is an English major and a communications and media studies minor. Currently the Tufts Daily's head features editor, she interned with the Improper Bostonian magazine during her sophomore year, and worked as a temporary text editor with the Associated Press at this July's Democratic National Convention. A member of the Class of 2006 and a songwriter, Taddonio has also performed on guitar and vocals at on-campus venues and at Boston-area benefits.
This story originally ran on Sept. 27, 2004