McCormack Speaks

September 28, 2018
by mccormackgradschool

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


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 26, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Latest Book by Mark Warren Chronicles Firsthand Experience of Educators and Students Fighting Systemic Racism in Schools


Mark Warren, Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs at the McCormack Graduate School, recently published his fourth book, Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement. The book introduces readers to the struggles and accomplishments of the educational justice movement through firsthand accounts and personal narratives written directly by the parents, students, educators, and allies fighting on the frontlines in the resistance against systemic inequalities that target and disadvantage children of color in low-income households.

Over the course of the semester, he will be speaking with community and education activists featured in the book and touring cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. His speaking schedule can be viewed here. McCormack Speaks sat down with Dr. Warren to learn more about his latest book and some of the goals that he hopes his book will help accomplish on these issues.


SA: Where did the idea for this book come from?

MW: I have been studying and working with community, parent, and youth organizing groups as well as with education activists for twenty years. Until recently, most of these efforts had been focused in local areas but over the past five years, I witnessed a growing national movement. I thought it was time to write a book about this new, emerging movement and wanted to have organizers and activists have a chance to speak for themselves – share their own personal stories, powerful analysis, and successful strategies for creating educational justice in schools and communities.

SA: What gap in the literature does this book address?

MW: This book approaches the failures of our educational system as a profound racial justice issue, rooted in the lack of power that low-income communities of color have in our society. It argues that we need a social justice movement led by those most affected – parents and students of color – as well as educators and allies in other movements to create power for communities and systemic change in public education. It also identifies effective strategies for how to build this movement and create equity-oriented change in schools and communities.

SA: What types of projects and dialogues do you hope this book will inspire?

MW: I hope this book will provoke a discussion about the depth of systemic racism in our public education system and what it will take to address it. I hope it helps people appreciate the important work [of] people who are often ignored in our society – like parents and students of color – but are leading change efforts across the country.

SA: How have your affiliations with the McCormack Graduate School and UMass Boston assisted with the publication of this book?
MW: I believe it is important for our public universities to be at the forefront of working with communities to create equity and justice in education and beyond. UMass Boston and MGS support this mission and the research and engagement work I do for educational justice.

SA: What are some other projects you hope to pursue in the coming years?

MW: The people who came together to create this book became excited about creating an idea and strategy space for movement building that we are calling the People’s Think Tank. We are touring the country engaging communities and educators around the need to create a stronger and more intersectional social justice movement with racial and educational justice at its center. We will be launching the People’s Think Tank next year as the culmination of this engagement process and take the next step to build strategic understanding and actionable knowledge for the movement and its supporters.

SA: Anything else that you’d like to share with the MGS community about this book?

MW: This book is very personal to me. I grew up in a blue-collar family and community and public schools gave me a chance to go to college and access the world. Too many young people, especially poor children and children of color, are denied that access and are consigned to lives of continued poverty or incarceration. This book shines a light on the way forward for our country to reject our racial history and create a better future for all our young people.



September 20, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Gerontology Department Welcomes Jeffrey Stokes as Newest Faculty Member

Jeff Stokes

Assistant Professor Jeffrey Stokes joins the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies as the newest faculty member after studying and teaching sociology and a track record of working on and researching issues related to health and equity. McCormack Speaks sat down with Dr. Stokes to learn more about his research, teaching, and future goals as the newest faculty member.


SA: Tell us about your professional experiences and interests, particularly those not mentioned on your CV.
JS: After graduating from Boston College, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, then worked in an Office of Sponsored Programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Having this first-hand experience with social programming and academic research fueled my desire to enter academia myself and conduct research to improve the lives of others. I returned to Boston College for my PhD in Sociology and, following a year as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University, I am thrilled to be back in Boston joining the Gerontology Department and the McCormack Graduate School.

SA: Why did you decide to pursue advanced studies and teaching in the fields of sociology and gerontology?
JS: As an undergraduate, I was deeply influenced by a few outstanding professors, and knew I wanted a similar career for myself someday. I was particularly interested in issues of health and equity, and this focus on the social determinants of health led to my choosing to pursue a PhD in sociology. During my graduate training, I became increasingly drawn to life course studies, and to exploring the ways in which social factors can contribute to widening – or reducing – health disparities over time. Demographic shifts and the aging population make gerontology an especially important and dynamic field right now, as well.

SA: What excites you most about teaching at the McCormack Graduate School and at UMass Boston?

JS: There are a number of reasons why joining the McCormack Graduate School and UMass Boston excites me. First, my wife and I are both from the Boston area and so this was an opportunity for us to return home and pursue our careers surrounded by family and friends. I also worked as a Data Analyst at the Center for Social Development and Education at UMass Boston during graduate school, so it was a very special homecoming for me to rejoin the university! Beyond that, however, I am very excited to be new faculty at the only public research university in a city known for higher education. The McCormack Graduate School has a unique position as the go-to resource for addressing issues of public importance, not only locally but also nationally and even internationally. The opportunity to train our graduate students – future leaders in the fields of gerontology and public policy here and across the world – is truly thrilling for me.

SA: How do you define good teaching?

JS: I believe the best teaching is not about imparting factual information. Rather, it is about changing the way students see and approach the world, helping students to develop a critical and analytical mindset for addressing social problems. Teaching, in my opinion, is less about preparing students to answer certain questions correctly, and more about preparing them to ask the right questions and to understand how to go about answering them rigorously.

SA: What are some of the projects you hope to pursue in the coming years?

JS: I am currently working on a few papers that explore mechanisms linking social factors such as daily discrimination and social integration with physical health outcomes. Moving forward, I am hoping to engage in a longer-term project that will examine dyadic links between marital quality, loneliness, and biomarkers of physical health among married older adults over a decade-long span. I also plan to pursue additional projects concerning neighborhood age demographics and older adults’ well-being. Lastly, I am excited to advise and mentor graduate students as they develop their own independent research projects.

SA: Anything else that you’d like to share with the MGS community?

JS: I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the MGS community and hope to get to know many of you better over the coming months and years. If you ever find yourself on the 3rd floor of Wheatley Hall, my door is always open!


September 14, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Professor Maria Ivanova Served as Chair of Jury for a $5 million Global Challenges Foundation competition

Professor Maria Ivanova served as Chair of the 9-member jury for the $5 million New Shape Prize by the Global Challenges Foundation. The prize was an open call to find new models for global cooperation to tackle global risks. The competition received over 2,700 proposals from 122 countries in all six UN languages. The jury selected three proposals.

In an interview with the Global Challenges Foundation, Ivanova explained, “The global governance landscape today is a more complex one than the one we had before. It includes intergovernmental organizations, the United Nations as the anchor, governments who are the main agents in those organizations. It also includes all the nongovernmental actors – NGOs, businesses, and others in that space. But what is qualitatively different is that today, the global governance space also includes individuals, citizens, you and me and others who have opinions who have calls for action in that global governance space.”

The video of the New Shape Forum award ceremony can be viewed here.

September 10, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Proposed New Savings Accounts Just Another Tax Shelter For Richest Americans

photo of Christian Weller

Professor Christian Weller, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, McCormack Graduate School

Congressional Republicans are getting ready for another round of tax cuts. According to congressional sources, this newest round may include a new retirement savings option under the name of “Universal Savings Account.” Contrary to the argument that it will help people get ready for retirement, it will mainly serve as a tax shelter for the wealthiest Americans and will do nothing for the retirement security or saving for average Americans. The proposal showers new tax benefits on wealthy families, who need the least help to save more. It may also create new obstacles to saving for lower-income households, who need more not less help to prepare for retirement.

Continue reading Dr. Christian Weller’s article published in Forbes here.

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