Early years return from the Tufts Civic Semester in the Southwestern United States

In the fall of 2021, Tufts held its second semester civics, where incoming students can participate in their first semester abroad or in the southwestern United States rather than beginning their college experience at the Medford/ Somerville de Tufts.

The Civic Semester first launched in the fall of 2019. Jessye Crowe-Rothstein, Head of Freshman Global Programs at Tufts, described some of the major changes between the program’s first Civic Semester and its fall session. 2021 in an email to the Daily.

“In 2019 we were in Peru, while this year we explored a different place, right here in the United States,” Crowe-Rothstein wrote. “The design of the program also had to change significantly, from students living with host families and working in individual internships with non-profit organizations in Peru, to students living, working with and learning from organizations, as a group in the [Southwest].”

This semester, freshmen accepted into the program traveled to New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, where they focused on immigrant rights, environmental sustainability, and Indigenous sovereignty.

Living between Boston and Nigeria, freshman Biani Ebie has always loved to travel. It was this passion that inspired them to participate in the Tufts Civic Semester program.

“I really like to explore and try new things,” Ebie said. “I felt like Civic Semester was a great opportunity for that because I had never been to New Mexico or Arizona.”

Unlike a typical freshman dorm experience, Ebie explained that the group stayed in different homes for about a month, Airbnb-style.

The first part of the program took place in Truchasa town in northern New Mexico near Santa Fe. Here the group met with different organizations and learned about topics related to immigration and indigenousness. within the region.

Isaac Leib, a freshman from Somerville, MA, joined the program both because of his interest in environmentalism and as a chance to get away from his hometown before returning there for the university.

Leib explained that one of the activities during the group’s time in northern New Mexico included a conversation with Dr. Christina Castro, co-founder of the Three Sisters Collective, who met with them in Santa Fe to talk about sovereignty. native. Castro spoke about the history of Santa Fe as well as the city’s major issues, such as gentrification.

“Hearing her talk was not at all what I expected from this trip in general, because it was so personal and detailed about everything she went through,” Leib said.

First-year Wevhu Tokwe joined the Civic Semester program because she wanted to learn more about the influence of gender in the South West. Tokwe grew up in Zimbabwe, where she witnessed instances of gender inequality and gender-based violence.

“I grew up going through, you know, witnessing domestic violence. … Those social hardships really impacted my life,” Tokwe said. “So when I saw the program develop people for them to become civic leaders i felt like… i should try it and maybe become a leader, maybe come home and make some changes regarding the difficult social situation where I grew up.”

Tokwe describes meeting Dr. Castro as particularly meaningful because of his leadership skills.

“[Castro’s] the best leader I have seen in my life,” Tokwe said. “She was talking about [these] experiences with this energy, with this passion, … talking about the treatment of indigenous people, how colonization disables them and how [Three Sisters Collective] trying to create change.

They also explained that they were touched by the way Castro spoke about gender, noting how the organizational structure of some indigenous communities is more matriarchal.

“[It was] quite unlike where I come from, which is like a patriarchal society. … It made me think of the genre more as a construct,” Tokwe said.

Environmentally, freshmen like Ben Chisam learned about food sovereignty and the long-term effects of nuclear test sites in Los Alamos, NM.

“There is a modern movement in the world, I think, but certainly in northern Mexico, to reclaim food sovereignty and be able to grow traditional foods, healthy foods, to break away from the biotech industry that has somehow sort of took control of farming,” Chisam, a first-year, said.

Chisam explained that learning about the intersectionality of environmental issues was particularly impactful.

“Environmental issues aren’t just something really macroscopic like climate change or…eye-catching like an oil spill,” Chisam said. “Environmental issues are baked into things like housing and food sovereignty and all sorts of day-to-day aspects of life, and then they’re also baked into big systems, like the prison system, or just general processes of colonization and of capitalism.”

After spending the first five weeks in Truchas, the cohort moved on to El Paso, a city whose proximity to the US-Mexico border shifted conversations to immigrant rights. Ebie explained that the group learned about the militarization of the border wall and how it has become more difficult to cross the border, which has a major impact on migrants. They explained that visiting the border wall in El Paso was a life-changing experience.

“Seeing the border for the first time in El Paso was very shocking because I had never seen the border and being so close to it and being able to touch it was very surreal,” Ebie said.

The cohort encountered an organization called Casa Carmelita, a shelter for transgender migrants, which is located right next to the border wall.

“Juarez on the other side [of the border], and El Paso, to some degree, has some of the highest femicide rates in the world, and that’s especially bad with trans women,” Chisam said. “Casa Carmelita does a lot of different things to try to help who they can and when they can.”

After visiting El Paso, the cohort traveled further to East Texas, where they spent about four days at Big Bend State Park. They then traveled to southern New Mexico, staying just minutes from the Arizona border.

In Canelo, AZ, Leib recalled meeting an organization called Canelo Project, a farm that emphasizes its applied education center and family-centered community, according to its website.

Tokwe found this part of the trip very impactful. A woman from the Canelo project explained that her children have had successful lives without much schooling.

“It was interesting because, growing up, education was always presented as the only way to succeed in life, but…it was so philosophical,” Tokwe said. “She was like, ‘As a kid, you’re like a plant, but the education system these days treats people like these holes that need to be filled. “”

The cohorts themselves were given an unconventional approach to schooling this semester. Although the students took Tufts courses online, much of their learning experience came from group discussions and hands-on activities.

Chisam explained that the experience he had this semester would encourage him to learn more outside of a classroom setting.

“For me, personally, I love learning, I love school, and it’s really easy for me to get lost in academia and lose sight of [the] things that happen outside of the classroom,” Chisam said.

As Leib returns to campus, he is also looking for ways to incorporate what he has learned this semester into his life in Somerville. He described how a visit to an urban farm in Tucson, Arizona was particularly impactful.

“It was just this community-run farm where they grow things in the middle of Tucson, and they grow like vegetables and…have community parties and gatherings and celebrations,” Leib said. “All the time I was thinking, I can do this in Somerville, there must be a place to do this in Somerville.”

Ebie is also looking to get involved with organizations similar to those she interacted with during the program.

“Coming back, I look forward to being part of organizations that in some ways have the same themes as the program,” Ebie said.

Reflecting on the semester, Tokwe mentioned that they felt they had grown both in their vision of education and as a leader.

“I can’t think of a better way to come to campus…because I now have a different way of looking at education, and I now have this skeleton of how I want to develop my leadership skills” , said Tokwe. “I formed this community. You know, I now call it family, this cohort.

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