Welcome to the Spring Semester

Please see below to view my beginning-of-semester message to the Tufts community.


Video Transcript:

Hello, everyone. I hope that all of you had a pleasant holiday season and that you had an opportunity to spend time with family, friends, and loved ones. I hope you had the chance to get some rest while also preparing for the upcoming semester with renewed purpose.

I think the break was helpful for all of us. I know it was for me. It gave me a chance to reflect on the previous semester, consider what I have learned, to admire how our community showed its strengths, and to think about where we and I can strive to do better.

While most community members enjoyed a productive semester on campus in the fall, I do want to acknowledge that many of us experienced challenges, challenges which merit attention. The fall semester has reinforced to me that my primary role is to advance the educational, teaching, and research missions of the university. While doing so, we must ensure that the community stays together meaningfully and thrives in a safe and productive environment that is conducive to learning, living, and working. Maintaining that atmosphere is complex but also vital. Often, conflicting demands will be made of the university. That we do not act upon these demands is not a sign that we have not heard them. Ultimately, I need to make decisions that are in the best interest and advance the mission of the entire university. 

Our ability to influence world events lies in producing relevant research, informed citizens, and responsible leaders. This is how our university—any university, really—can change the world. And it is what we must focus on doing.

In a university, disruption cannot take the place of dialogue. Our values require us all to engage in inquiry and in conversation, to probe and discuss the very things that we disagree on, and to seek deeper and more meaningful understanding. I have spent much of the last semester meeting with students, faculty, and staff, individually and in groups, and learning about the wide variety of identities and perspectives that comprise the Tufts community. I learned that it is a mistake to paint Tufts—or any part of our community—with a broad brush. I learned that our community is not monolithic or narrow-minded, but rather proudly diverse with individuals who represent multiple viewpoints in seemingly unexpected ways. While we may have disagreed on some things, we agreed on much more. 

It is possible to denounce terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Israel and to acknowledge and speak out against the suffering and loss of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It is possible to be sympathetic of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, while still demanding the return of Israeli hostages. And it is possible to be supportive of the self-determination rights of both Israelis and Palestinians without coming across as somehow being blindly supportive of violence. And I hope we can agree that as a community, we should speak out most forcefully against all forms of discrimination and bias that have grown in the recent months, including antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiments.

One thing I regret from last semester is that at times we did not show enough empathy for those who do not share our perspectives. I include myself in that criticism. We must all do better. In our advocacy, we cannot sacrifice our empathy for our fellow community members. This includes choosing our words carefully. If our goal is to get others to listen, then it is critical to consider what people hear, not just what we say. Otherwise, we're not communicating; we're just making noise.

This issue goes beyond the conflict in the Middle East. Indeed, we owe it to ourselves and to each other within our community to engage in this level of academic and intellectual rigor in all our pursuits. We must embrace diversity of viewpoints and hone our ability to explore beyond our own intellectual, political, or social understandings or leanings in order to develop deeper understanding of the complex issues in our society.

So how do we get there together? First, I strongly believe that we should engage in more conversation, not less. The temptation of retreating into our own echo chambers because we feel comfortable or feel validated by others agreeing with our own position should be resisted, especially in an educational environment. We must seek rather than avoid different perspectives. Provost Genco's message last month details numerous ways in which we plan on facilitating conversation and dialogue. It is through engagement that we will succeed in nurturing a truly inclusive community. And to be clear, I don't define an inclusive community as one in which we all agree with each other. Rather, I define it as one in which we respectfully learn from each other, even when we disagree.

Second, we must ensure that resources are available and accessible for all members of the university community. Your well-being is my priority. Availing yourself of our counseling resources or those of the chaplaincy is a sign of strength, not weakness. We have heard of inadequate resources in some areas, and we commit to doing better in those and adding additional avenues of gathering and support for our community members. There will be times of discomfort in the next semester, just as there were times of discomfort last semester. I do not believe our job is to shield you from this discomfort, but rather to help support you through it.

Third, all of us as community members need to respect the policies that preserve this community and enable it to be its very best. Over the past few months, I have learned that, to maintain an atmosphere conducive to learning, enforcement of our policies is vital. While I celebrate and encourage community members who support their causes through protest and activism, there is a danger when activism disrupts the life of the university, such as when protesters employ the heckler's veto, shouting down other speakers or when repeated and provocative activism results in harassment for some of our community members.

Finally, I encourage all of us to recognize the humanity in each other, to have empathy, and to resist the temptation to impulsively react to everything in an extreme way. We should never forget that the person "on the other side" is a Jumbo, after all.

I welcome the new semester with renewed hope and enthusiasm, with respect for my fellow community members, and I'm grateful for the privilege of being within an academic community that allows us all the ability to freely explore ideas, test our assumptions, and develop skills that will enable our students to change the world. I trust you to begin the semester with this sense of optimism. I wish you all success in the semester ahead. Thank you.