Urban Activist

August 23, 2010 by Dan Morrell  
Filed under Features

“A number of Midwestern communities suffer from population outmigration, declining tax revenues, and job loss. These problems have been exacerbated by an economic downturn that has resulted in massive foreclosures, blight, and the inability of cities to provide basic services. Cities like Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Flint and Detroit, Michigan, have adopted innovative strategies to address these challenges, including the extraordinary step of planned city shrinkage: residents are provided incentives to move from sparsely populated areas to denser neighborhoods, city services are no longer provided to the depopulated areas, and the land is held by a city land trust for future development.” –Assistant Professor of Government Teri Fair

The city of Flint, Michigan, is shrinking itself. Once one of the great production hubs of General Motors, with 80,000 locals working at the auto giant in the 1970s, today only about 8,000 Flint residents are employed at the struggling company. Flint has been hit particularly hard by the recent economic downturn; one-third of the city’s population lives in poverty, and more than one-quarter is unemployed. Some parts of the city are barely inhabited, which has led city officials to advocate shutting down abandoned sections and concentrating public services, such as police and fire patrols and garbage removal, on areas where people actually live.

Last spring, Assistant Professor of Government Teri Fair traveled to Flint to see the urban decline firsthand. As she drove around, all of the statistics and headlines became real. Just past City Hall, in a residential neighborhood five blocks long, every home was abandoned except one lone holdout. Many were boarded up; others were burned out. Old and weathered trash, dirty diapers, and ancient appliances covered the lawns. Even gang graffiti sprayed on the houses had faded, as if the gangs decided long ago that they had better places to be.

Three Houses in For Sale by Owner sign Flint, Michigan neighborhood Boarded up home Flint, Michigan neighborhood

Fair is researching how cities are dealing with the economic decline, and Flint provided her with one city’s answer. But it also raised new questions: What happens to the concept of community if neighborhoods disappear? How has the economic collapse affected voter turnout? What happens to political representation in a bankrupt city? How does a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation get by with such reduced tax revenues?

“They’ve hit a bottom—if it’s the bottom, I don’t know,” says Fair. “But how did they get there? And what does this bottom look like? I want to look at the strategies they are trying in an effort to bounce back—and maybe be a part of the strategy at the same time.”

Answering these questions means collecting and analyzing a vast amount of information. It’s a massive, ambitious project—the kind of undertaking Fair’s colleagues and peers say she relishes. And the kind she has conquered throughout her career.

A political future revealed

Fair has seen community destruction like this before. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, her mother would pack Fair, her twin brother, and her older sister into the family’s bronze Ford Thunderbird to take a trip down to the South Dallas projects. “This is where your bad choices will lead you, right to these projects. And I’m not coming to visit you, because I don’t want to die,” her mother would say, gesturing to what Fair remembers as the toughest of the local public housing communities.

Her parents were strict, and the children grew up with restrictions on their entertainment. Fair didn’t have a telephone or a radio in her room and could only talk on the phone in the kitchen, where there was always an audience. The children were limited to an hour of television a week, although PBS and the news didn’t count, a rule which Fair credits for her early interest in politics.

Teri Fair, left, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Both of Fair’s parents spent their early years working in the fields of Texas picking cotton, her father later making a career in the Navy. They worked tirelessly to support their family and wanted to make sure their daughter appreciated what she had. Life is about choices, her mother would tell her, and sometimes there are choices you just can’t undo: “I believe you’re going to be somebody. I’m investing in you right now. Don’t disappoint me.”

Fair knew a bad choice could be as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That mistake happened to a boy she knew growing up, costing him two years in jail. “That’s not going to be me,” she told herself. So she was careful and deliberate in her choices.

In 1993 Fair enrolled in Spelman College in Atlanta as a chemistry major, switching to English after two years. She took political science classes as a way to raise her GPA, and got hooked. During senior year, she interned for Robert Holmes, a longtime Georgia state representative and a professor at Clark Atlanta University, where she would go on to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees.

At the time, Georgia was developing a plan to deal with the new federal welfare reform policy, and Fair assisted Holmes’s office by tracking legislation, setting up public hearings on the new laws, and answering telephone calls from constituents personally affected by the legislation. “I felt like I really was a part of the dialogue and the discussion, even though it was just as his intern,” says Fair. “I would go on the floor and listen to how policy is impacting peoples’ lives,” she recalls. “It made policy real. It wasn’t just something that people talked about on television; it wasn’t something that I just read for my classes.” She began developing her own perspectives and formulating recommendations, and then decided to head to graduate school to put some credentials behind her ideas.

Active on campus at Clark Atlanta, Fair was impossible to ignore. Joseph P. Jones, a former classmate and current assistant professor at Johnson C. Smith University, remembers Fair cornering him in his first semester, telling him that one of the student organizations needed more men and that he was to show up for the next meeting. “It was quite striking,” says Jones with a laugh. Fair kept after Jones, and today he considers her a mentor and a big sister. “She’s very highly respected,” says Jones. “And very, very ambitious.”

William Boone, an assistant professor at Clark Atlanta and a longtime academic advisor to Fair, recalls her in similar terms, remembering how she preferred challenging research subjects. “She would choose topics that generally you wouldn’t think other folks would look at—especially if they were just trying to get their degree and move on,” says Boone. “That wasn’t her thing.” Boone recalls her master’s thesis—which looked at the influence of African-Americans and Latinos on Texas politics—as an example. “You could take an easier route on that same question of political involvement,” says Boone. “You could just take a look at African Americans and not worry about the conflicts between African Americans and Latinos. But she tackled it in a different way.”

Her energy at Clark Atlanta came from an epiphany. An early reading assignment in one of her very first classes was a speech given by famed political scientist Mack Jones that dealt with the responsibilities of a black political scientist. “I’ll never forget it,” says Fair. “There we were in the basement of a building that had been built by freed black slave labor, and I was in love.” The professor asked what the class thought of the piece, and Fair was ready with a response. “I said, ‘You know, people tell us what to think, and how to understand the world because they’re defining the concepts, they’re defining our reality.’ And I said, ‘This creates space for me to do that exact same thing. It gives me a charge. I’m not just creating or providing information simply just to provide information. I have a responsibility to give information that’s useful—not just to society as a whole but to a specific community that I dedicate myself to as a researcher, so that they can be empowered. And not just to exploit them for the day so I can get this journal article done, so I can get tenure. I have a larger responsibility.’”

She recalls her entire reply word-for-word, without a stumble or pause. And with that, Fair had an objective. Which for her, according to her academic peers, usually makes success a fait accompli. “Once the goal is established, she puts all her energy into it,” says Boone.

Empowering new civic leaders

On an early fall day in her One Beacon Street classroom, the mood in Teri Fair’s “Introduction to American Democracy” course is electric. Fair has divided the class into two groups, the federalists, who support a strong federal government, and the anti-federalists, who believe the states should have more power, and the two groups are recreating the debate over the Constitution and its merits. “Six years is way too long,” says one of the anti-federalists, referring to the length of a Senate term. When the federalists demand to know why, a member of the other team responds, “Because new ideas are what move things forward. Besides, you can lose touch with the people in six years.”

The argument ping-pongs back and forth for 30 minutes. The anti-federalists say the Constitution is vague. The federalists champion its ambiguity as a boon for future generations. The anti-federalists see a road to tyranny; the federalists point to the check of the judiciary. Students are raising their hands, straining to keep themselves from interrupting others. They argue with passion, and when they are through with their arguments, they smile and set down their pens with great satisfaction.

Teri Fair is beaming. It’s rare to see this kind of fervor in students, let alone everyone in the class. They are all engaged, prepared. Happy, even.

Suffolk University College of Arts and Science TeriFair Suffolk University College of Arts and Science 050309100days258

Such positive responses to Fair’s teaching are common. “Her class was one of the most highly rated,” says Alejandra St. Guillen, program manager of Initiative for Diversity in Civic Leadership (IDCL), a 16-week program designed to prepare people of color in Boston to run for office or seek political appointments. The program is a joint venture of Suffolk University, the voting rights group MassVOTE, and ¿Oíste?, the Latino civic education organization. Fair has worked with IDCL since its inception in 2007; she developed the curriculum and has taught the “Race and Public Policy” portion of the program. “We talk about race throughout the program, but her class on race and public policy really drives things home for people, and they see it as one of the highlights of the session,” says St. Guillen.

IDCL gained instant traction in the city. More than 300 people applied for just 30 open student slots in the first year, and the applicant pool represented a wide range of political ambitions and demographics. There were public policy wonks looking to run for office and community activists looking for political appointments. There were candidates as young as 18 and as old as 72. There were recently nationalized immigrants and those born and raised in the city. And there were those looking for a resume booster and those looking to make dramatic change in their neighborhoods. The program received financial backing from the Boston Foundation, one of the city’s most respected funders. Mayor Menino spoke at the launch. Governor Deval Patrick spoke at the graduation. And the graduates have reaped quick rewards, with inaugural IDCL graduate Tito Jackson placing fifth in a recent Boston City Council primary.

The cause is dear to Fair. “The incumbency advantage here in Boston is something that can’t be overlooked as a barrier to political representation,” she says. “We aren’t even seeing challengers in some cases.” Without challengers, incumbents don’t have to work as hard, a situation that Fair says hurts everyone. So while the stated goal—changing the face of politics in Boston—is an important one, Fair says the program has another positive consequence: “Even just facing a contested election will force an incumbent to reattach to his or her community. It only serves to help democracy.”

She teaches less for IDCL now than she did the first year, although she still works on assessing the program. But for the time being, the center of her focus has moved west.

Planned recovery, not shrinkage

If Fair is intimidated by the prospect of helping to raise Flint from the dead, her ambitions don’t show it.
It’s early still, but she has a plan. She has already met with some local organizations and wants to identify other effective groups, and then craft a strategy with them to make sure Flint doesn’t lose its sense of community. She is also drafting a grant proposal to create a program like the IDCL in Flint, working on the initiative with students from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan at Flint. “I want to help them become aware of the steps to community empowerment and how that can translate to some level of civic engagement and civic empowerment,” states Fair. “It’s important just to get some level of mobilization in a community that, right now, is in a position to be disengaged,  ignored, and seen as a problem in need of a solution.”

The work has an academic side, but Fair has an emotional stake in it. After all, the work is part of the larger responsibility that she realized in the basement that day at Clark Atlanta. “My heart really goes out to Flint and its residents,” she says. “They are poised for extreme exploitation.” With land and housing at rock-bottom prices and no restrictions on how much can be bought, corporate developers could swallow it all up and transform it into a dump. “It could be viewed as a choice spot for city waste,” notes Fair.

Plus, she says, the fall of Flint is particularly close to her heart because it takes with it the dreams of the generations of African Americans who migrated north to Flint and other parts of America’s Rust Belt in search of a better economy and racial equality. “There was a lot of hope connected to that move,” says Fair. “And today we are seeing the gradual erosion of that reality.” Once a symbol of long-term wealth and investment, the empty homes now signal a retreat. If it keeps up, Fair says, the city could literally die. With so much of the land now in the ownership of the county, Flint could be fully dismantled in 20 years.

But Fair thinks there is opportunity here and knows that innovation can be borne from desperation. Some of the best ideas, she notes, come when people’s backs are against the wall. With some help, Flint could be a much better place two decades from now and still has the opportunity to be beautiful. The city could work to develop more green spaces and concentrate efforts on urban farming programs. It could be a beacon for green communities; it could develop a diversified economy that is not wholly reliant on the auto industry; it may even be able to recruit corporate service centers to employ its residents. Flint could be a healthy, vibrant place, with new residents and new energy.

Or at least, that’s her goal. And given her history, that should offer Flint some hope.

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Capital City Classroom

August 20, 2010 by Sherri Miles  
Filed under Features

As part of a 10-day seminar in the nation’s capital sponsored by The Washington Center, 92 Suffolk University students came to know the one city in the country where the leading industry is politics. Traveling with five faculty instructors, they joined college students from 44 states and 11 countries for a political immersion experience in Washington, D.C. They met with liberal advocacy groups, conservative think tanks, and high-powered politicos. They heard differing voices and views, witnessed history in the making, and fell under the spell of this storied city.


The Washington Center

The Washington Center

The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC), located six blocks from the White House, has been affiliated with Suffolk University since 1978, offering semester-long internships, one- and two-week programs, and, every four years, seminars at the Democratic National Convention, the Republican National Convention, and the inauguration.

“One of the major missions of The Washington Center is to inspire future political leaders,” says government professor and department chair John Berg, who himself spent time in Washington as a student when he interned for Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) in the summers of 1964 and 1965. “It makes the study of government and politics more real; you understand that there is a point to what you’re doing in the classroom. People generally come back more motivated to study government.”

Suffolk typically sends students to TWC seminars each January and May. In January 2009, 92 students in Government 503 attended TWC’s Presidential Inauguration Seminar, which drew nearly 700 students from 135 schools to Washington. Suffolk was the largest contingent, representing one in seven students and five of 57 small groups. “Suffolk can be congratulated for its true commitment to experiential education and civic engagement in allowing so many students to participate,” says Gene Alpert, senior vice president of The Washington Center.

During the seminar, students attended speaker sessions, kept a daily journal of observations and activities, wrote a paper, reviewed a book, and met with faculty leaders in small groups led by government professors Roberto Domínguez, Teri Fair, and Brian Conley, government department coordinator Meri Power MSPS ’08, and graduate student Erin Cheuvront MSPS ’09.

Important people, historic places

The seminar began with a bus tour of Washington, stopping at the World War II, Iwo Jima, Vietnam War and Korean War Memorials as well as the Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorials, and the U.S. Capitol Building. “It was a good overview of official Washington,” says assistant professor Brian Conley. “It gives the students context for where they are.”

In the mornings, students attended sessions with prominent political and media figures. “Part of the excitement is that students can talk to people who talk to the president. Or talk to people who talk to the president-elect,” says Alpert. “They can meet someone who sees the president every day, whose office is within steps of the Oval Office.”

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For example, the seminar theme was “The Media and the Presidency,” and speakers included Dana Bash, senior congressional correspondent for CNN; Special Agent David J. O’Connor of the U.S. Secret Service; USA Today columnists Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel; Ted Koppel, former host of ABC’s Nightline and senior news analyst for National Public Radio and the BBC; Clarence Page, columnist at the Chicago Tribune; His Excellency Ambassador Husain Haqqani of Pakistan; political humorist Mark Russell; Sam Donaldson of ABC News; a panel of members of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress; and Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief correspondent and moderator of Face the Nation.

“It was obvious that The Washington Center has been doing this for a long time,” says Conley. “They had the venue; they had the contacts; they had an extraordinary array of people.”

Students also participated in two live tapings of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal call-in show. On Tuesday, Jan. 13, they asked questions of NPR news analyst Juan Williams and Fox News anchor Brett Baier. On Wednesday, they took part in a discussion of  the Bush-Obama transition and the media. “There were so many Suffolk students asking questions that Brian Lamb, president and CEO of C-SPAN, stopped and acknowledged Suffolk University during a live broadcast because we were so active in the discussion,” says Conley. On Tuesday

Bridging academics and real world politics

“What’s unique about the program are the site visits-the intimate opportunity to go to an embassy, to go to a think tank, to go to a media organization or a political consulting organization and ask questions,” says Alpert. “Students can talk to these experts one-on-one, without cameras and sound recordings, and hear an honest assessment of their perspectives on the world.”

“We visited the Human Rights Campaign, which is the lead advocacy group in the United States for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues,” says Conley. “They had a very large building on the corner of M and 17th street, and they’re saying, like a lot of these groups, ‘We’re here; we have a presence.'”

“Advocacy work-like the Human Rights Campaign-happens here because they know they can be heard here,” says instructor Erin Cheuvront. “They believe so passionately in what they do and in their cause, whether it’s the green movement, the environment, or human rights, and all of them have a government relations department that lobbies Congress, or they may work with a lobbying firm on K Street, the breadbasket of lobbying, because if you want to be heard, that’s the street you go to.”

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At a visit to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, experts in health care and economic policy presented the students with a conservative take on policies being formulated and debated.

“It was frustrating at first to listen to people who exist on the opposite end of the political spectrum from you,” says Mike Mandozzi, a political science student. “But we heard from Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel the day before about reaching across the table and finding common ground, so I tried to go in there with that mindset. It was amazing to see my fellow students drilling these people with questions; they were fighting them on everything they said. That made me optimistic, to see that at 20 and 21 years old, my fellow students have these beliefs that they’re willing to speak up about.”

Access to the process

Many students were interested in attending the confirmation hearings underway during the week on Capitol Hill. The schedule spread like wildfire in the mornings. “During our time in Washington, the students could literally charge over to the Hart Senate Building and have a chance at getting in the door,” says Conley. “And that’s exactly what we did.”

“We went to Senator Clinton’s confirmation hearing,” says economics student Colin Hansen. “Kerry was giving closing remarks, and people were excited to see Hillary Clinton as she was leaving. Politics is so abstract for us. I’d never really seen D.C. before and it’s kind of mythical if you haven’t, and then you see the room the Senate meets in-the Gallery-and it makes it very real.”

“The Gallery is the public viewing place where you can watch the government do what it does-it’s where members of Congress speak, give speeches, and take a vote,” says Cheuvront. “During a State of the Union address, it’s usually where the First Lady sits, as well as special guests of the press. There are seats reserved for the public to view every day.”

Cheuvront requested Gallery passes from her senator’s office and took her group to the House of Representatives office building. “I’d say half of the students were surprised that we were just allowed in the building. Many of them have said that when they are in D.C. they will always make a point to stop by their senator or representative’s office because now they know they can. Before they felt that they didn’t have that access to their government.”

Witnessing History

As the inauguration drew closer, students watched this city on the bank of the Potomac River and in the spotlight of the world get dressed for a party. Luminous limestone and marble buildings wore garlands of red, white, and blue bunting and wall-sized flags, the proud and customary attire for inaugural ceremonies in Washington.

“The day before, I was out on the Mall taking pictures,” says Cheuvront. “I ran into a few of the students when I was there-they were the Republican students. They were very funny. They just decided they were going to be Obama supporters for the next couple of days. They were jumping up and down, and I said, ‘What are you so excited about?’ They said, ‘We’ve decided to embrace all this happiness, Erin; what do you think?’ and I said, ‘Hey, knock yourself out!'”

Two Suffolk students, Megan Costello and Allison Brito appeared on MyFoxBoston’s evening news (at 0:01:45), interviewed about being in Washington for the Inauguration and having access to the ceremony.

At midnight that night, Hansen and some friends claimed a spot on 4th Street, the closest viewing area for those without tickets, and stayed there for the next 12 hours. “After the sun rose, one of my friends, who is kind of a big guy, held me up on his shoulders and I took people’s cameras from around me and took pictures of the crowd all the way back to the Washington Monument. There were that many people screaming and crying and cheering. I could have a conversation with anyone there, then. Maybe not any other time, afterward or before, but there, we were one people.”

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On this historic morning, attendance at a presidential inauguration reached an all-time high, with an estimated two million gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and along the length of the National Mall to the Capitol, cheering and waving flags as they watched Barack Obama shatter the ultimate whites-only glass ceiling and be sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States.

After the ceremony, Conley was interviewed about Obama’s speech by New England Cable News.

The end of the inauguration marked the end of the seminar, and students fell in line with others who walked back the way they came, hobbling down sidewalks and across streets, frozen by wind and cold and fatigue, yet carried forward with a shared sense of satisfaction and purpose. They had accomplished their goal, each of them, to be in Washington during this moment in America’s story.

“My hope for all the students is that in 5, 10, or 15 years they will have a really profound understanding of what they were able to witness as part of this seminar,” says Cheuvront. “That isn’t going to happen for a long time. But I think when they talk to their children, or talk to fellow colleagues or friends or family years from now, remembering that they were at this event and what it means in the overall perspective of U.S. history, I hope that they’re able to see that.”

The spell is cast

The Presidential Inauguration Seminar gave students a chance to be part of history. It also introduced them to the participatory side of politics: they saw the institutions at the center of government, and the surrounding network of advocacy groups, think tanks, embassies, the media, the secret service, and national and international nongovernmental organizations.

They learned that politics is made up of people, that their government is accessible to them, and that they have a right to be heard. These 92 Suffolk students became part of 40,000 TWC alumni, and for 10 short days, part of the community in the nation’s capital.

“D.C. is a special city,” says government student KyQuan Phong, president of the mock trial team. “Everywhere you go, you’re around senators and representatives. You’re meeting all these different people, and it’s an opportunity to expand your network whether they’re politicians or other students.”

“There’s nothing like Washington in that sense,” says Conley. “There’s almost something startling about that. They call it Potomac Fever. A lot of students picked up on that. I have a handful of students who are saying they want to come back here, work for the State Department, get various graduate degrees, and work on Capitol Hill. They want to be in Washington.”

“Students become familiar with the city,” says Alpert. “They feel that it’s their second home, and they’re not afraid to come back and look for a graduate school or a job. Some of them will catch Potomac Fever. Some of them already have. They say, ‘I want to be like that person I heard at such-and-such a think tank,’ or ‘A person I met, I want her to be a mentor to me.’ It’s really a life-changing experience for the students. I tell them on the first day they will never be the same.”


Info// The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars is a nonprofit educational organization providing students with opportunities to work and learn in Washington, D.C. Visit TWC online at www.twc.edu.

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Letter From the Dean

April 19, 2009 by Dean Kenneth S. Greenberg  
Filed under From 41 Temple

We published the first issue of Suffolk Arts + Sciences last year with the word “Encore!” splashed across the cover, in reference to the lead story on Suffolk’s C. Walsh Theatre. We did not quite expect the applause that followed: words of appreciation from across the Suffolk community-“Bravo!” “Knockout!” “Congratulations on an outstanding publication!”-plus five national awards. What means most to us, however, are the kudos and suggestions from our alumni, who responded with enthusiasm.

This fall we bring you the second issue of Suffolk Arts + Sciences. The “Journey” of the cover story refers literally to the Alternative Winter Break trip to El Salvador undertaken by a dozen Suffolk students and staff members, under the leadership of history professor Chris Rodriguez. In addition to completing the construction of an outdoor arena for community gatherings in the small town of El Sitio, the Suffolk delegation commemorated the work of the late Massachusetts congressman and Suffolk University alumnus Joe Moakley JD’56, whose efforts helped to facilitate an end to the civil war that wracked the Salvadoran nation from 1980-1992.

As Maxine Hong Kingston, the renowned author, repeat visitor to the College, and 2008 recipient of an honorary doctorate from Suffolk University, has remarked, “success means effectiveness in the world, that I am able to carry my ideas and values into the world-that I am able to change it in positive ways.” This is precisely what the volunteers on the trip to El Salvador did: they harnessed their classroom learning to their passion for social change and, continuing the legacy of Joe Moakley, shared the “success” of their Suffolk education.

This issue of Suffolk Arts + Sciences pulses with the “journeys,” the success stories, of our alumni, faculty, and students: Gregory Hazelwood BA’98 teaches African American history at Brockton High School, where his mentorship truly matters; Coach Jim Nelson models self-respect and decorum as surely as he demonstrates a sweeping hook shot; and recent theatre graduates Rachel Kelsey and Purnima Baldwin make a bold and important statement about homelessness in Boston with their play, Infinity. The “Standout Talent” section this year features seven students who have taken the injunction to “learn beyond the classroom”-a value literally embedded in our new curriculum through the Expanded Classroom requirement-seriously as they spread across campus and into their communities, applying what they have learned in our classrooms to the world as they find it.

As you will see in these pages, and as I have witnessed throughout my 30-year career at Suffolk University, some of the most precious rewards of a Suffolk Arts and Sciences education take form in civic engagement, in serving others and making a positive change in the world. Let us bring you down a few of the paths, passages, and byways explored by members of our community over the years as they have journeyed toward “effectiveness in the world,” as they have taken their education and built “success.”

And let us know how your Suffolk education has shaped your years since graduation. How have you brought the ideas and values that took form during your time on campus out into the world?

I hope that your journey allows you to stop by campus this year to experience the College in full swing. Believe me, you will leave invigorated.

Kenneth S. Greenberg

Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Government Grads

April 19, 2009 by David D'Arcangelo '96, Ashley Boyd '08  
Filed under After College, Degrees at Work

The first in a series about graduates across the decades from highlighted degree programs. This year’s focus is the Government Department. A commitment to civic engagement connects all Government Department students, alumni, and faculty. We spoke with four graduates to see where their government degrees and dedication to public service have taken them over the years.

With his office situated just steps from the Massachusetts State House, Professor John Berg has an interesting perspective on the civic interaction that Suffolk shares with its Beacon Hill neighbor. “We try to encourage enthusiasm for public service and politics,” he says. As chairman of Suffolk University’s Government Department, he has seen decades of students progress through their studies and into a life of public service.


A passion for politics led Alayna Van Tassel BA’01 to the State House, where she interned while attending Suffolk and worked full time after graduating for State Representative David Linsky, State Senator Henri Rauschenbach, and State Senator Jim Marzilli. “The idea of getting involved and working to make a difference in the community was instilled in me at a young age. I pursued a career in public service because I am passionate about, and committed to, progressive social change. Whether it’s improving access to homecare services for seniors, working for women’s access to reproductive health services, or ensuring that marriage equality remains legal in Massachusetts, I know that the work I’m doing is going to impact someone’s life for the better.”


Arthur Bernard BA’80 recalls becoming a Senate page in 1977 and credits that experience with “really opening me up to a whole career of possibilities.” Now, as a senior adviser for Governor Deval Patrick, he has devoted his career to public service. Other prominent positions include serving as chief of staff for Senate President Robert Traviglini and vice chancellor for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He thanks his professors in the Government Department—John Berg, Judy Dushku and Judy Elmusa—for leaving a big impression upon him through their teaching. “Suffolk was the right place to be because it gave me a chance to grow,” he says, “and the Government Department let me feel as if I could do anything and was always there to connect me back to the school.”


After five years of manual labor directly out of high school, Bob Gibbons BS’78 followed his own path to Suffolk University. Professor John Berg recommended him for his first government job as a legislative aide to Thomas Brownell in 1979. He continued to work as vice president at a private lobbying practice, “a job that provided me with a new perspective on challenges facing the private sector,” he says. He currently works as a senior vice president at Massachusetts Hospital Association, overseeing state and federal relations for all hospitals in Massachusetts. His late entrance to Suffolk University and adaptation to a new career are obstacles he believes no one can be prepared for in life, but “at the end of every challenge, there lies an opportunity.”


As a government student in the early 60s, the Honorable Thomas Brownell BS’63, JD’66 never imagined becoming a judge. Working at Purity Supreme supermarket to pay his way through college, he immersed himself in the world of politics and government. First he became a lawyer, then a legislator and later a part-time professor at Suffolk University. Now in his current career as 1st Justice of Plymouth District Court, he is able to reflect on the importance of his education. “Continuing education is essential; people must never stop learning because the only constant in life is change.” Retirement lies in the future for Judge Brownell, yet he hopes to stay active with a community service job or more teaching. “My father always said, ‘If you help one person a day, then you have done a lot.’”

In the Community

April 19, 2009 by Patty Barrett '08  
Filed under In the Community, Students Today

Early rising students spent their morning preparing spring baskets with flower seeds, plant pots and fun trinkets for the elderly residents of the Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD), a neighborhood center that provides housing for low-income seniors. Another group of students delivered the baskets and hand-made cards to ABCD at the “Villa Michelangelo” in Boston’s North End, staying to chat and share stories with the residents.

Suffolk students grabbed their Best Buddies and visited the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) in South Boston. The Best Buddies program provides one-to-one friendship opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Students and their buddies spent their day in the GBFB warehouse taking in shipments and preparing food to be sent throughout New England.

New England School of Art & Design students in Professor Karen Clarke’s Sustainable Design for Interiors course hosted “Design for the Environment,” a green/sustainable design trade show in the atrium of 10 St. James Avenue. The trade show educated visitors about green design—maximizing the efficiency of energy and water systems, using recycled materials in construction, and minimizing the environmental impact of construction and operation. (see story pg. 10)

Down by the banks of the River Charles, Suffolk University students got their hands dirty in an effort to clean up the Esplanade in time for spring. Their time was spent raking leaves, cleaning up trash, and beautifying one of Boston’s most famous locations.

More images available on these pages of the digital edition.

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