Students Pursue Their Passion for Social Justice

“Leadership for Change” at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life is a two-week summer program for high-school students eager to study social-justice issues while living, learning, and socializing on the university’s Medford campus. 

Well, until this year, it was.
The program still offers a robust curriculum that addresses social justice and community action on numerous fronts, but this summer, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the program was held virtually, with attendees connecting mostly via Zoom calls. 

Four Rivers students—Elliot Do ’21, Celina Chen ’22, Avery Mattoon ’22, and Jack Queler ’21—participated this year. Do and Chen were both recipients of a fellowship from the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at Rivers, which covered the cost of attending. And while the students couldn’t help feeling a bit let down by going remote, they say they still found the experience valuable and eye-opening. 

“Going into it I was a little disappointed,” admits Do. “But I was pleasantly surprised by the speakers and the opportunities. I didn’t get what I expected, due to the pandemic, but I did learn a lot.” 

Chen was interested in doing leadership training on a college campus, especially after her experience the previous summer with a program at Simmons College. Although she was sorry not to be able to have that residential experience, she was pleasantly surprised at being able to form lasting relationships with her peers in the program, despite the challenges. Since the program attracts students from across the country, participants were grouped by time zone, and, says Chen, “It was hard to meet people outside my group, but within the group, we made connections.” 

Do says that, through the program, he now has friends in New York and Rhode Island who are as engaged as he is on issues of social justice. “That’s what’s unique about the friends I’ve made through this summer experience: We all know we have a passion for social change,” he says.

Mattoon says she was drawn to the program because she’d “never done a program like this before, and it sounded like a great opportunity to be educated and to have conversations with peers who are just as passionate as you are.” She notes that a silver lining of going remote was that the shorter-than-anticipated days (about four or five hours of programming each day) left her freedom to complete homework and see friends in the afternoon. 

Chen says that, for her, one takeaway from the program was “learning about policy work in general, about passing legislation, about taking money into consideration in policy-making.” Mattoon made a significant lifestyle change as a result of her participation: “One day we had a lecture about industrial farming, and it ended up pushing me to try out being a vegetarian.” A few months later, she’s still sticking with that choice. 

Overall, the students are less focused on what they lost through going remote and more focused on what they gained from “Leadership for Change.” Do had been looking forward to the hands-on community outreach that is a component of the program. Needless to say, that didn’t happen this year. “But,” he says, “at the end of the day, I still learned everything I wanted to learn.”