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 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.

August 20, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Dean David Cash Reflects on MGS Hosting Political Debates, Serving as Convener for Civic Engagement

Over the last three years, the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies has returned to its role as a sponsor of political debates. Last semester, McCormack teamed up with The Boston Globe and WBUR to bring Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie to campus for a democratic gubernatorial debate. A few months later, the same team brought Michael Capuano and Ayanna Pressley on campus for a Congressional debate. Next up: Secretary of State William Galvin and his challenger, Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, debating at the UMass Club downtown, also before a live audience. The team organizing these debates is led by Dean Cash, Research Fellow Bob Turner and Rashelle Brown, McCormack’s events planner. McCormack Speaks sat down with Dean Cash to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work.


SA: Where did the idea to host these debates come from?

DC: There is actually a strong history of political debates at UMass Boston. The first debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 was at the Clark Athletic Center here, and there have been others. When I became dean, I felt that policy-focused political debates were central to the school’s role as an active citizen. Fortunately, through the work of Bob Turner, senior fellow at MGS, we were able to create a strong partnership with two of Boston’s leading news institutions, the Boston Globe and WBUR.


SA: What kind of reactions have you gotten from the public, candidates, UMB community, etc.?

DC: Universally, the reaction has been positive, primarily, I think, because the questioners are first-rate and we have focused on issues that are distinctive, and sometimes controversial, but based on policy differences more than personal ones. It has also been gratifying that the candidates themselves have seen these events as substantive, well-run, and an opportunity to engage in civic and civil discourse.


SA: What has been surprising about hosting these debates?

DC: Virtually without exception, the debaters – whether candidates for high political office or advocates for policy issues on the ballot – have been extremely knowledgeable, well-prepared, and articulate. This is not very surprising, but the level of talent and commitment in our civic life is impressive. I think nearly everyone who attended left the hall encouraged that, in Boston, at least, our public life is in good hands.


SA: Do you have a favorite moment from any of the debates?

DC: Most of the debates have been held here on the UMB campus, and it has been terrific to see how the turnout has grown steadily. One thing we have included in each debate has been the chance for students or other school personal to ask a question, either submitted in advance and asked from the floor, or sent over social media. Creating this opportunity for direct participation in our democracy has definitely been a highlight.


SA: How do you see sponsorship of these debates as connecting to the values and mission of MGS?

DC: Not for nothing, are we the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. John McCormack served 48 years in Congress, and nine as speaker. His deserved reputation as a doer – one who successfully advanced the interests of poor people in housing, health care, and retirement income – is a steady beacon to our school. And another, for sure, is his deserved reputation as a powerful debater.


SA: Are there plans for future debates? Do you see this as something that MGS will continue hosting?

DC: Definitely. There is real value in the debate of important public issues both for the general public and for the school. We couldn’t hold that belief more strongly. Our presence as the academic arm, with the Globe and WBUR, has helped build a powerful partnership that has grown more professional and effective in each of its three years, and promises to remain engaged.


SA: Anything else you would like to convey about the debates that hasn’t been covered by these questions?

DC: As the graduate policy school within Boston’s only public research university, we have unique resources, and a unique challenge. We can and do create learning, but we also have the obligation to spread it, near and far. We have a role – and I would argue a responsibility – to convene these kinds of debates to show that information, persuasion, passion, research and ideas play an important role in democracy.

June 12, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Jeffrey Pugh, Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, Earns Top Award For Article on Universal Citizenship in Ecuador

This year, the Middle Atlantic Council of Latin American Studies (MACLAS) awarded Jeffrey Pugh, Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution at the McCormack Graduate School, with the Harold Eugene Davis Prize, which is awarded to a MACLAS member in good standing for a book chapter or article published in the past two years.

Pugh received his award at the annual meeting in March for his article entitled, “Universal Citizenship through the Discourse and Policy of Rafael Correa,” published in Latin American Politics and Society in 2017. The chair of the Davis Prize committee, Dr. Michael Schroeder, commended Pugh for his “nuanced, multilayered, exceptionally well-written, and meticulously researched and argued” analysis on the discourse of universal citizenship in Ecuador. At the 2018 MACLAS conference in Pennsylvania, he explained the selection committee’s decision-making process:

“[Pugh offers] a compelling framework for addressing one of the most important issues of the 21st century, and one that only promises to become more salient with the social and political dynamics set in motion by global climate change. On what basis do ordinary people make claims for rights? The emerging concept of universal citizenship is fascinating, provocative, and holds many comparative implications. The article’s analysis of Ecuador and President Rafael Correa’s use of universal citizenship discourse to advance his political goals while constraining boundaries of membership in the nation and claims making offers a compelling strategy for analysis. The article… offers a powerful framework for addressing one of the most important issues of the contemporary era, a framework that can be applied far beyond Pugh’s case study of Ecuador. [It] is attentive to a host of countervailing and contradictory pressures and forces, and helps to place Latin America in the center of contemporary debates that have far-reaching global implications.”

Each year, MACLAS offers several awards, grants, and prizes for excellence in scholarship and service. Founded in 1979, MACLAS is an organization that brings together scholars, researchers, students, and professionals in the Mid-Atlantic who have interests in disciplines and pursuits related to Latin America. Pugh served as MACLAS President during the 2013-2014 academic school year.

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