McCormack Speaks

September 28, 2018
by mccormackgradschool
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Saadia Ahmad, ’17 graduate of Master’s in Conflict Resolution, participated in the inaugural Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition Forum in Morocco

Saadia Ahmad, a 2017 graduate of the Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, recently participated in the inaugural forum of the Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition (MJIC) in late August. The conference brought together 60 young adults who identify as Muslim or Jewish from over 30 countries to Essaouira, Morocco for a week of building relationships, learning about one another’s religions, forging new professional networks and possibilities for collaboration, and exploring the Moroccan city’s rich history as a place of peaceful coexistence among Muslims and Jews.

Saadia is also a Fellow with the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development, through which she worked with Darren Kew, Center Director and Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, on a 5-year USAID project on creating faith-based mediation systems to mitigate violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.

She can be reached at saadia.ahmad001@umb.edu.

 

McCormack Speaks: What were some of the highlights of the program?

SA: The structure of the schedule, guest speakers, discussion groups, and visits to religious sites were immensely helpful in gaining content knowledge about the history and theology of Islam and Judaism and experiencing the culture, people, and hospitality of Morocco. That being said, what I often most benefit from and appreciate in these programs are the informal interactions and relationships that blossom in between all of the programming. It was during these moments of conversation, both serious and lighthearted, where I was able to learn more about the spiritual and political interests and questions around Muslim-Jewish matters that I came in with.

 

McCormack Speaks: Why was this interfaith program of interest for you to attend?

SA: I’ve been involved as a participant and as a facilitator with many interfaith programs over the last seven years that bring people together to talk, explore similarities and differences between traditions, build relationships and understanding across (and often within!) religious groups, and develop partnerships for working together in the long-term. This was my first interfaith program that focused specifically on relationships between Muslims and Jews. I’ve been looking for this for a while, as many of the programs and organizations I’ve been involved with thus far focus primarily on Muslim-Christian relationships and interfaith dialogue between multiple religious groups.

Depending on the religious groups that are present, there are different topics and questions on the table that are specific to those religious groups and those distinctive relationships. For Muslims and Jews, for example, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the obvious and stereotypical example of a topic that is of special importance to Muslims and Jews and Muslim-Jewish engagement. Equally important issues are the shared experience of being minority religious groups in the West and, with that, the potential for collaboration and supporting one another through all the challenges that a minority status entails.

Additionally, I’m in a phase of exploring questions around my faith and have shifted in some of the ways I practice and identify with Islam. In conversations with some of my Jewish friends and reading the work of Jewish authors, I’ve come to appreciate how the tradition emphasizes intellectualism, asking questions, and creates space for those who identify as Jewish but who may not practice – something that is also present in my own tradition but is not mainstream in the same way. I was very interested in hearing how Jews as well as other Muslims engage with their faith and issues affecting their religious communities in ways beyond normative practice, ritual, and belief. In other words: what does it mean to be a Jew or a Muslim who identifies deeply with the religion, but not engage in some of the traditions and practices expected of someone who claims a religious identity? This program created the right space thematically, geographically, and logistically to explore all of the above.

 

McCormack Speaks: How did you first decide to pursue work and advanced studies in interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution?

SA: I first became involved with interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding during my undergraduate studies as a Muslim at a Catholic college, where I experienced the benefits of positive interfaith exchanges. Through regularly attending Catholic worship services, taking theology courses, participating in Campus Ministry, and serving on its Pastoral Council, I experienced my own Islamic faith sophisticating in unprecedented ways. I realized the potential for religion to unify and heal rather than to divide and harm and created the college’s first interfaith organization to facilitate such encounters and also to support non-Catholic members of the community.

As only 20% of the Muslim student population at the time, I also encountered hostility and misunderstanding around my religious and racial identities. I witnessed significant misunderstanding of Islam and realized the need for more Muslim public intellectuals and for greater interfaith community building efforts. These experiences – both the positive and the difficult – motivated me to facilitate and encourage positive interfaith interactions in our local and global communities.

 

McCormack Speaks: How have your affiliations with the Conflict Resolution program, the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development, and the McCormack Graduate School assisted with your work?

SA: Our classes, professors, and classmates push us to think critically and compassionately about conflict: to ask questions that others may not think or want to ask, to recognize the humanity of the other side, to suggest that there are alternatives to harmful and destructive ways of dealing with conflict. The field experience I gained through facilitating online with Soliya, mediating small claims cases in the Dorchester District Court, and meeting with Muslim and Christian clergy and leaders in Nigeria, have helped me further develop my skills and combine theoretical knowledge with practical application. The op-ed articles I’ve written over the years – including in The Boston Globe, America Magazine, and The Richmond Times – are also informed by this approach.

There’s a way in which studying and practicing in this field seeps into your bones, and you begin to view everything around you – both professional and personal matters – through the lens of what causes conflict, what may help manage or resolve it, and how you might play a role in that.

September 7, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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We Can Improve Coastal Communities as We Protect Them

by Rebecca Herst, Director of the UMass Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab, and Paul Kirshen, Professor at the School for the Environment and Academic Director

The best way to protect Boston from rising seas is through “shore-based solutions.” Two of the authors of a recent report explain what that means, and how such solutions can yield benefits for communities

One of the biggest challenges facing Greater Boston is coastal flooding. As weather gets more extreme and sea levels continue to rise, this is a challenge that government and business leaders, researchers, and communities are working together to solve.

Against this challenge, many had placed hope in the idea of a harbor barrier as a silver bullet for protecting neighborhoods. Our organization, the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston, recently conducted the first feasibility analysis of this concept. We concluded that a harbor barrier would face serious technical challenges and not be worth the massive investment required. Another option is shore-based solutions – which the City is already beginning to implement, and which can include physical measures such as elevated green spaces, raised boardwalks or deployable floodwalls and policy solutions such as changes to zoning. We found that, compared to a harbor-wide barrier, shore-based solutions are vastly more cost-effective, and that they also provide significant “co-benefits” – i.e., positive community outcomes in addition to keeping Boston safe from coastal flooding.

While it was outside the scope of this study to explore the extent of these potential co-benefits, we have been working with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing in East Boston and other partners to explore the potential of shore-based solutions. Through this work and success stories in other cities, we have found that if shore-based solutions are implemented thoughtfully, they can significantly improve quality of life and access to important resources and opportunities. Some of these benefits can include:

  • Protection against rising temperatures. Shore-based solutions provide an opportunity for increased tree cover and green infrastructure in neighborhoods that deal with urban “heat island” impacts likely to intensify over the course of the century.
  • More democratic participation in the development of the future of the city. With a strong public process in place, communities can decide how to protect their neighborhoods and co-create solutions using a wide variety of physical (e.g. parks, protective greenery, floodable basketball courts, etc.) or policy tools.
  • Engagement and targeted investment in local business. These community processes can be opportunities to engage local expertise and business leaders, including helping identify opportunities to target investments in local efforts that, historically, may have lacked access to funding, such as women- and minority-owned businesses.
  • Flexibility, creativity, and innovation in public realm planning – with less risk. Parks and other adaptation features can be built in a modular way that allows for iterative learning and more investment later.
  • Economic development through “climate tourism.” People around the world could look to Boston for our innovative approaches to adaptation through popular harbor tourist spaces.

Creating a resilient city isn’t easy and none of these benefits is a given. In fact, research has shown that, if we are not careful, our attempts to address climate change can even exacerbate social and economic inequities that already exist. For example, green infrastructure investments can accelerate gentrification, making it challenging for the people who advocated for new investments to stay in their neighborhood. As we develop climate change policies we need to have a holistic approach which, in this case, could include preserving and even increasing affordable housing.

We at SSL are particularly interested in how these climate adaptation investments can be leveraged to safeguard the region’s most vulnerable populations. We will be exploring these topics in future research and invite you to subscribe to our email list to learn more. Many questions around financing, governance, and project sequencing remain, but with continued cooperation, we can work together to ensure resilience planning supports communities while protecting them.

***This article originally appeared in an article published on the website of The Barr Foundation here and has been republished on McCormack Speaks with permission.

September 4, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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Updates on the Center for Social Policy From Director Susan Crandall

“Stars are born out of dark moments.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

It has been a year of crisis and upheaval across our campus, the nation, and the world. In spite of it all, the Center for Social Policy has made significant progress in our quest to shepherd meaningful change for low-income families. The Center for Social Policy leverages its unique strength as a research center at an urban public university rooted in the community it serves, and taps the talents of our faculty, staff, and students in order to:

PRODUCE IMPACTFUL RESEARCH

CONTRIBUTE TO POLICY

  • CSP Director Susan Crandall was appointed to the City of Boston Mayor’s Office Economic Roundtable.
  • CSP Research Director Francoise Carré was appointed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Community Development Research Advisory Council.

BUILD THE CAPACITY OF THE FIELD

SUPPORT STUDENT GROWTH

  • Center for Social Policy student employees obtained employment with the City of Boston, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the Community Economic Development  Assistance Corporation (CEDAC).
  • Public Policy Doctoral Student Caitlin Carey was awarded the Beacon Graduate Leadership award.
  • Public Policy Doctoral Student Bianca Ortiz-Wythe was selected to present her research on youth inclusion for the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees.
  • Uchenna Nwangu, a third-year doctoral student at the UMass Boston School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, joined us as our summer Werby Intern.

ATTRACT ATTENTION

  • CSP Research Director Francoise Carré’s Where Bad Jobs are Better book was cited in the New York Times, The Nation, CBS News, and Le Monde.
  • CSP Director Susan Crandall’s research on Open Book Management profit-sharing for restaurant employees was featured in the Boston Globe.

I am so proud of the accomplishments of our CSP team! I am especially proud of our hardworking students, who, without the resources of a private university, dedicate themselves to produce high quality, award-winning research. I am deeply indebted to our funders, sponsors, partners, family engagement advisors, and UMass Boston faculty, staff, and students. With the Center for Social Policy receiving less than 15% of its funding from the state, we need your support to continue our efforts to systematically research policies and reveal the stories of those living in poverty, and develop policy solutions for a much brighter world for all families.

With appreciation,
Susan Crandall

August 20, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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MGS Associate Dean Edozie on African Studies at UMass Boston and Greater Boston Area

Professor Edozie was appointed last year as Associate Dean at the McCormack Graduate School and as Professor of International Relations in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance. Dr. Edozie is a prominently published Africanist scholar whose most recent appointment was at Michigan State University. Last year, she published her sixth book on a topic in African Affairs, Pan Africa Rising: The Cultural Political Economy of Nigeria’s Afri-capitalism and South Africa’s Ubuntu Business. In her first year at UMass Boston, she convened a university-wide academic programming initiative called the Africa Scholars Forum. McCormack Speaks sat down with Professor Edozie to learn more about her Africa initiatives.

 

SA: What is the Africa Scholars Forum, and where did the idea to develop it come from?

KE: Though newly appointed at UMass Boston, I’ve been a longstanding teacher-scholar of African studies and African affairs. My dissertation research was on the Nigerian democracy movement. I held my first post-doctoral appointment as Deputy Director of Columbia University’s Institute for African Studies. I have spent over 15 years in varying appointments in the professoriate as an Africanist, including most recently at Michigan State University for 12 years as a Professor of African Affairs and Director of African American and African Studies.

Last year, I was extremely excited to join UMass Boston as Professor of International Relations in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance and Associate Dean at McCormack. In meeting many faculty members, administrators, and students, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the deeply-seated yet invisible-to-the-public African studies vitality at UMass Boston. In conversing with my new fellow, Africanist colleagues, we all pledged to come together to establish a forum for collaboration in deepening, expanding, and enlivening the study of Africa at UMass Boston. That’s how we came to the idea to develop the now established Africa Scholars Forum here.

 

SA: What are some of the short- and long-term goals for the forum?

KE: We are happy to have established ourselves in late Spring 2018 as a university-wide academic platform for the teaching, research, and programming of Africa, having been convened by an informal network of Africanists at UMass Boston. The Forum serves many functions, including building a more formal educational presence around African studies, providing a collaborative hub for work on Africa at UMass Boston, and facilitating among Africanist faculty shared resources and existing initiatives in African Studies in a convened, organized, and institutional space.

We are currently working on a number of goals and objectives, including:

  1. Develop an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in African Studies
  2. Establish a formal speaker series on African issues at UMass Boston
  3. Engage student groups on campus who have Africa programming missions, and create undergraduate student research initiatives on African study
  4. Establish a platform for deepened African research study for graduate students at UMass Boston
  5. Promote existing and new exchanges with area African Studies programs and universities in Africa to facilitate faculty and student exchange, especially study abroad and community research
  6. Collaboratively achieve prestigious grant awards.

 

SA: How do you see this forum as connecting to the values and mission of MGS?

KE: One of the things that attracted me to UMass Boston was its cosmopolitan, internationalist, and diasporic student and faculty research thrust. Just walking across campus during my interviews here last year, I visibly came across students from all over the world, particularly from Africa – Cape Verdes, Kenya, Ghana, and even my native Nigeria. I remember one day on the commuter bus hearing Yoruba and Pidgin English spoken by students. Both languages are Nigerian. I later learned that there are several African student groups and there are quite a few graduate students, especially at McCormack, who are conducting Africanist doctoral research.

As you can see from the Forum’s member-initiatives, there are also several faculty members conducting research and projects in Africa. At least forty percent of international development policy work is conducted in the African region. McCormack’s policy and global mission stands at the frontiers of Africa study. In collaboration and consultation with other faculties at UMass Boston, including Africana Studies, Anthropology, Economics, History, the College of Social and Global Inclusion, the McCormack School is the appropriate host to lead this university-wide initiative.

MGS faculty members already conduct focused research projects in Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and are exploring other regions and countries. I have extensive field research and project-based experience working in South Africa, and I am an honorary professor at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria. There, I work with the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute, the African Renaissance Institute, and the Pan African Languages program; these are all intensive academic research programs and continental platforms for African derived and formulated public policy for the continent. Much of my own publications – including my recent book, Pan Africa Rising – have conducted research on these so called “Africa policies”! I would love to see MGS and UMB connect this faculty research to the continent and UMB students to foster cross-continental educational exchanges on Africa policy.

 

SA: You were recently appointed as the Co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee of the African Studies Association-Boston 2019 Conference – Congratulations! Can you tell me about your role and about the ASA and the upcoming Boston conference next year?

KE: The African Studies Association (ASA) is an association of scholars and professionals in the United States and Canada with an interest in the study of and engagement in the continent of Africa. Started in 1957, the ASA is the leading organization of African Studies in North America. Next November 20-24, 2019, the ASA will convene its 62nd Annual Meeting here in Boston. The presence of this conference in the region is significant, because it offers an opportunity for the ASA to engage academic institutions and their African Studies programs in the region, not to mention companies and organizations with an interest in Africa. With my colleagues – Professor Kwamina Panford at Northeastern and Assistant Professor Abel Djassi Amado at Simmons University – I am Co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) for the Association’s meeting in Boston in 2019.

Along with volunteer members from the many African Studies program faculty in the Greater Boston Area and with Boston University’s African Studies Center as our executive office host, my colleagues and I are in the process of organizing several distinctive initiatives for the event. It is a great privilege for us to serve the ASA in this manner and to highlight our African, African Diaspora, and African studies community here in Boston. African peoples have a longstanding, vanguard, and deep revolutionary history of the city and the State of Massachusetts. Massachusetts was the first state in the union to abolish slavery. Today, diverse and expansive communities of peoples of African descent ranging not exclusively from Black Bostonians, to Cape Verdeans, Somali, Haitian, and many other African and African descendant immigrants make up the city’s dynamic majority-minority status.

February 22, 2018
by McCormack Speaks
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Gerontology Professor Marc Cohen Presents New “Policy Roadmap” for Future of LTSS Finance

This post originally appeared on the Gerontology Institute blog, written by Steven Syre.

What would a better way to finance long-term services and supports (LTSS) for older Americans really look like? Even more importantly: How would it perform?

Marc Cohen, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston, and two colleagues took up that challenge and developed a new “policy roadmap” combining public catastrophic insurance with gap-filling private LTSS insurance focused on middle-income people.

“The fundamental LTSS financing problem is the absence of an effective insurance mechanism to protect people against the cost of extensive LTSS they may require over the course of their lives,” said Cohen, also a professor at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

Cohen and co-authors Judith Feder, a professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy and a fellow at the Urban Institute, and Melissa Favreault, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said their plan would enhance benefits for people with long-duration impairments, reduce unmet LTSS needs and mitigate burdens facing family caregivers.

The authors said their plan would enhance LTSS spending by 14 percent, reduce out-of-pocket spending by 15 percent and cut Medicaid spending by 23 percent, compared to projected spending under current law.

The public-insurance element of the plan would be financed with a 1 percent Medicare tax surcharge paid by taxpayers over the age of 40.

The authors described their proposal as providing an “analytical foundation for demonstrating how a shift from an LTSS system dependent on impoverishment and last-resort public financing to a financially sound insurance system that can provide meaningful protection for people with catastrophic LTSS needs.”

Cohen and Feder presented their plan at a Jan. 31 discussion hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. They were joined on a panel by Gretchen E. Alkema, vice president of policy and communication at The SCAN foundation; Sheila Burke, a BPC fellow and strategic advisor at Baker Donelson; Cindy Mann, the former director of the Center for Medicaid and Anne Tumlinson, the founder of Daughterhood.

Under the plan, eligibility for public catastrophic coverage would be subject to waiting periods at age 65 ranging from one to four years, based on income. Higher earners would be subject to longer waiting periods.

Private insurance would offer a way to cover those up-front gap years. Based on the average cost of private policies on the individual market, the authors estimate gap-filling coverage would amount to 2-4 percent of income for all groups, except the lowest 20 percent of earners. Such costs are in the range of what people appear to be willing to spend for policies, according to the authors.

Individuals assessed with two or more limitations in activities of daily living or severe cognitive impairment expected to last longer than 90 days would qualify for public benefits once they satisfy the waiting period.

The model’s level of benefit payments is linked to direct service costs, excluding room and board. It would provide $110 per day, which was the average expense for five hours of service by home health aide in 2016 (though the benefit could be spent on nursing home care as well).

The authors said the 1 percent Medicare surcharge helping to finance the program would cost a worker earning the 2016 average covered wage of $48,642 about $41 per month, or when split evenly between employees and employers, about $21 in direct monthly costs to employees. They suggested the surcharge could be presented as a premium and taxpayers could be offered the opportunity to opt out of the plan.

Cohen and his co-authors acknowledged that the search for better ways to finance long-term services and supports is not high on America’s current political agenda. But they believe work on the issue now can pay dividends in the future.

“Research undertaken now on the design and challenges of specific proposals for LTSS financing reform will provide the necessary intellectual infrastructure and foundation for effective action when policymakers are inevitably forced to address the issue in the years ahead,” they wrote.

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