Decreased TCU event requirement gives culture clubs space for growth and discussion

TCU Senator and First-Generation Community Senator proponent, Charlie Zhen, poses for a portrait shot outside Hodgdon Hall, on April 24, 2017. (Vintus Okonkwo / The Tufts Daily)

In past years, a Tufts Community Union (TCU) Judiciary requirement specifying the number of public events that culture clubs are required to host threatened the very culture of the clubs themselves, according to several organization leaders.

However, the TCU Senate opted to reduce the number of required public events for culture clubs from three to one per semester, allowing for them to spend less time planning events and more time bonding and celebrating their unique cultures.

In a March 11, 2016 Daily article, students from different culture clubs described the strain of working with TCU Senate’s restricted food budget and mandatory three-event requirement on their clubs’ purpose and community. This original three-event requirement was specified in Bylaw 2, Section G of the Tufts Judiciary, according to the TCU Senate website. This bylaw, however, was amended at the end of last semester to best accommodate the needs of various culture clubs.

Junior Charlie Zhen, the Asian American community senator and member of the Chinese Students Association (CSA) executive board, said that he originally spearheaded this change due to an increasing dissatisfaction with the way culture clubs were run in accordance with this by-law.

Zhen said that the process of proposing and eventually passing the resolution began with discussions with various club members as well as the entire Pan Asian Council, an umbrella organization made up of representatives of all the Asian culture clubs on campus, regarding the inability of culture clubs to expand activities beyond mere event planning.

“I went to the Judiciary, I went to the [Committee on Student Life], and we changed the language to reduce the event requirement, which means that e-boards no longer have to function as event planning committees all the time,” he said. “Now at CSA, we can have meetings [that are not all about events].”

This past March, after meeting with the Judiciary, Zhen published an article in The Tufts Observer titled that highlighted his concerns with this restrictive by-law.

In the article, he specified, “When meetings are dedicated to event planning, logistics, delegation and ordering food from our favorite ‘ethnic’ restaurants for the campus-wide community to enjoy, we de-prioritize our communities and instead cater to the interests and ‘ethnic curiosities’ of the rest of the student body.”

Senior Tony Nguyen, the president of the Vietnamese Students Club, said that before the resolution was passed, culture clubs would rush to put together events.

“I think that this new rule makes us feel better, because we can do one event and it will be intentional to serve our community and it will serve what we want to do rather than just put out an event because we need to,” Nguyen said.

Rather than fostering internal community, Nguyen said that the three-event requirement challenged the purpose of cultural clubs.

“That’s the broader implication of ‘who are we serving,’” Nguyen said. “Are we serving the Vietnamese people who come to this club for a space to gather and a place to feel solidarity, or are serving the broader Tufts community?”

Zhen said that, in past years, the CSA functioned similarly.

“It was nothing about Chinese history, being Chinese, what does it mean to be a Chinese person on this campus or in America,” he said.

Zhen said that the pressure to host three distinct events also forced clubs to cut membership down to just a small e-board responsible for event planning. He added that admission to this selective e-board was centered on your ability to contribute to events and plan events.

“It was not about who would like to be a part of this community, who would want to be exposed to exploring this aspect of their identity,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be like that. It can be very alienating if you’re trying to get into a culture club and you’re not accepted. You wonder, what is this denial based off of? Is it based off of my identity? My culture? Who I am as a person?”

John Fernandez, a sophomore recently elected to the e-board of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), agreed that lowering the number of required events for culture clubs was a good decision.

“It gives [club members] more of an opportunity to focus on learning more about that culture, promoting discussions for that culture and doing events that are tied more to that culture,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez also spoke to the small size and limited resources of many culture clubs as a hindrance in large-scale event planning, as the previous by-law mandated the same three-event requirement regardless of a culture club’s membership.

“When you look at culture clubs across campus, they generally have a much smaller [population] of the student body,” he said. “Therefore, their funding isn’t going to be as great as other clubs on campus, so having this requirement would limit them, especially since they kind of have to keep it in their minds, especially when they’re trying to get other work done and trying to promote other discussions and do other things.”

This year, with less emphasis on event planning, Nguyen said that he hopes to see the Vietnamese Students Club hold more internal bonding, build relationships and create a better student community — rather than just serving as a planning space.

“We’re doing a lot of exploration of culture, a lot of ‘what does it mean to be Vietnamese,’” Nguyen said. “And also just more hanging out. That’s really important too; we don’t need to be on the social justice side all the time.”

Zhen emphasized the significance of culture spaces on campus and reflected his optimism for CSA this year.

“We’re going to try to look at focusing on culture and identity, because there are so few spaces for that here on campus,” he said. “And I think we’re going to try to make it a social place where you can explore and learn about your identity [and] also to have a good time.”