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The analysis of inequality and the pursuit if equity are pressing issues today. For example, the richest 1% of the world’s population own just over half of the world’s wealth and have seen twice as much income growth as the bottom half since 1980. Such statistics raise contested questions that require both explanation and assessment from diverse perspectives. Equity is fundamental to many current debates about specific social issues.

Many institutions have created centers devoted to inequality, but they usually emphasize inequality of income or wealth. At Tufts, we will adopt a positive focus on defining and achieving equality instead of merely analyzing inequality. Drawing on Tufts strengths, we will investigate equality from many angles and will devote considerable attention to investigating, assessing, and remedying disparities in health, wealth, and civic engagement both within the US and internationally.  The Tufts approach will involve a broad definition of “equity” that encompasses health, voice, and wellbeing as well as wealth and income; a pluralistic debate about what constitutes justice; and attention to how active citizens can improve world’s equity.

Equity in Health, Wealth, and Civic Engagement

The wealthiest 1% of Americans own the largest share of wealth seen in a century, and major global trends—from climate change to automation—threaten equal opportunities and outcomes. The public and policymakers hold polarized views about whether any specific gaps are inequitable, whether they can and should be addressed, and who is responsible for closing them. Although these debates are at the heart of politics and will never be concluded, they need much more rigorous and holistic research that considers health, voice, and wellbeing as essential markers beyond wealth and income, that offers insights about how to define equity as a positive state (rather than just measuring inequalities), that combines scholarly expertise with laypeople’s understanding of their own situations, and that supports citizens to make their communities more equitable.

Research on equity that serves the public must be interdisciplinary, breaking down barriers between economics and the other social sciences, between empirical research and philosophical analysis of justice, between theory and applications, and between the university and communities. To this end, we will build on the Tisch College model of applied interdisciplinary research that engages communities, now extending the model to involve every Tufts school.

To launch this effort, we propose a high-profile, high-impact, and innovative research study that will begin in 2020 and be repeated thereafter as a signature project. We will link the data from a new representative national sample of 2,100 people to existing data already collected by faculty in all Tufts schools and colleges. The survey will yield unanticipated findings about inequity in America and tools to inform policymakers and the public. For instance, on a user-friendly website, citizens can explore how their own ZIP Code or demographic group compares to others on many dimensions of equity, including health, wealth, and community voice, drawing not only on the new survey but also on links to Tufts researchers’ own datasets.

This study will develop over three years into the foundation for a leading and durable research center. The center will integrate research from across Tufts, attract external funds for ambitious projects, generate groundbreaking research, affect the national and even global understanding of equity, offer educational opportunities for Tufts students and others, and help Tufts itself become a more equitable institution.

As a major research university with a unique constellation of leading schools and departments, Tufts employs many scholars whose work on particular aspects of equity influences policy and scholarship: from food security and voter turnout, to social determinants of health and chronic and communicable disease outcomes, to the philosophical foundations of justice, to name just a few. Our goal is to coordinate that work to make Tufts the world’s leader in producing research that helps citizens to debate, define, and improve equity.


Leadership Team
Jennifer Allen, A&S
Peter Levine,* Tisch
Thomas Stopka, TUSM

Working Group
Madina Agenor, A&S
Julian Agyeman, GSAS
Amahl Bishara, A&S
Bruce Boghosian, A&S
Silivia Bottinelli, SMFA
Mary Davis, GSAS
Deborah Donahue-Keegan, A&S
Moon Duchin, A&S
David Ekbladh, A&S
Brian Epstein, A&S
Anjuli Fahlberg, A&S
Sasha Fleary, A&S
Sara Folta, Friedman
Eitan Hersh, A&S
Linda Hudson, TUSM
Paul Joseph, A&S
Rey Junco, Tisch
Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Tisch
Palak Khanna, Fletcher
Keren Ladin, A&S
Amy LeClair, TUSM
Debra Lerner, TUSM
Penn Loh, GSAS
Patte Loper, SMFA
Helen Marrow, A&S
Jayanthi Mistry, A&S
Megan Mueller, Cummings
Ellen Pinderhughes, A&S
Sarah Pinto, A&S
Merredith Portsmore, SoE
Chris Rogers, SoE
Debbie Schildkraut, A&S
Shomon Shamsuddin, GSAS
Helen Suh, SoE
Monica Toft, Fletcher
Angelica Valdes, Friedman
Norbert Wilson, Friedman

*Project Director