History on the Hill: Identity-based resource centers

Five identity centers are shown. Daniel Montoya / The Tufts Daily

With several vacant or soon-to-be vacant director positions in the identity-based resource centers at Tufts, students have been asking administrators to act quickly to fill those vacancies and commit to staffing these centers in the interim.

Searches for new directors of the Asian American, Latino and Women’s Centers are now underway, and interim staffing plans have been developed, according to Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Raymond Ou, who spoke at the town hall meetings between students and university administrators on March 27 and May 1.

Students will also be able to participate in the current and future searches by interviewing candidates or serving on hiring committees, according to a new online form that was recently launched by the Division of Student Affairs.

Several of the identity-based centers that report to the Division of Student Affairs — the Africana, Asian American, FIRST, Latino, LGBT and Women’s Centers — have long-standing histories of student activism and involvement that have been crucial to the Centers’ development. As the Centers are experiencing change at this juncture, the Daily takes a broad look at the Centers’ histories and the pivotal roles that students have played in their founding and development.

Africana Center

The Africana Center at Tufts was founded in 1969, after students protested the alleged racist hiring practices of the company that built Lewis Hall.

According to Daily articles from March 2010 and November 2014, Tufts had contracted Volpe Construction to build Lewis Hall, at the corner of Packard Avenue and Powder House Boulevard. After students from Tufts’ Afro-American Society found out that Volpe practiced hiring discrimination, they occupied the construction site, supported by Tufts faculty and students from other Boston-area universities, on Nov. 5, 1969.

The protesters challenged the university to ensure that more “black or third-world” workers must be hired. Tufts initially responded harshly, obtaining a restraining order against the protesters and calling on riot police to intervene.

Eventually, an agreement was reached between the university and the protestors on Nov. 14 of that year. Tufts agreed to take action against Volpe for its racial discrimination in hiring. The protest was halted.

The 1969 protests also pressured Tufts to establish the Afro-American Cultural Center to provide various resources for students of African descent. The Center was renamed the African American Center in 1977 and the Africana Center in 2001. Student protesters in 1969 left a lasting legacy, as the Center celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Student protesters in 1969 also called for the creation of an “Afro-American Studies Department.” This demand, unlike the others, was ignored. Students later renewed calls for an Africana studies major from 2009, leading to its creation in 2012.

Katrina Moore has served as Africana Center director since 2008. After Asian American Center Director Linell Yugawa retires this summer, Moore will be the longest-serving staff member of all the identity-based resource centers at Tufts.

Asian American Center

The Asian American Center at Tufts was founded in 1983, after a racist incident against residents of the Asian American House, then known as the Asian Culture House.

Pledges from Tufts’ Kappa chapter of Zeta Psi fraternity hurled derogatory slurs at several students living in the Asian American House early on March 12, 1982, according to an apology from Zeta Psi brothers published in the Daily on March 19 that year.

Much debate ensued on campus as to whether the Zeta Psi chapter or the pledges themselves should be formally punished by Tufts. The Committee on Student Life eventually issued sanctions at the end of spring 1982 against Zeta Psi for its role in the incident.

The Asian Student Center was then created a year later in July 1983, as a community resource for Asian and Asian-American students, after students called for Tufts to pay greater attention to the needs of this student demographic.

Since then, the Asian American Center has continued to grow, including an expansion of its Center space into the entirety of the Start House building from fall 2018, after students successfully lobbied for the residential space of the Asian American House to be moved out to improve the accessibility of the Asian American Center.

Director Yugawa, who is retiring this summer, was appointed to the role in 1985. Concern over the lack of job posting and administrative stability for the Asian American Center, along with several other identity-based centers, was expressed early this spring, in an op-ed written by a group of students affiliated with the Center. A search for a new director of the Asian American Center is currently underway.

FIRST Resource Center

The FIRST Resource Center was founded in August 2018 to support first-generation, low-income and undocumented students at Tufts, after years of tireless advocacy by students and staff.

The FIRST Center is supported by the Office for Student Success and Advising, led by Associate Dean Robert Mack and Associate Director Margot Cardamone. Mack concurrently serves as associate provost and chief diversity officer for the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

It may be the newest of the identity-based resource centers at Tufts, but it is certainly building on initiatives led by first-generation students and other university programs. Students have spearheaded the First-Gen Collective, formerly the First-Generation Student Council, since 2014.

For incoming first-years, Tufts also offers two bridge programs — Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts since 2010 and Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts since 2012 — and a pre-orientation program — Building Engagement and Access for Students at Tufts since 2018.

Latino Center

The Latino Center at Tufts was founded in October 1993, after students called for the creation of a culture center, much like the Africana and Asian American Centers, to provide support and a voice with the university administration.

While the Latino Center, previously called the Hispanic American Center, was not established in the wake of a protest, students in the then Hispanic American Society had been demanding for such a center prior to 1993, according to a March 27, 2018 Daily article.

The Center has been led by two directors in its history: Rubén Salinas Stern from its founding to 2017 and Julián Cancino from 2017 to 2019. Stern has been credited with the development of social justice peer education programs, while Cancino encouraged greater student involvement with the Center and oversaw the Center’s inaugural Latinx Film Festival in 2018.

The role of Latino Center director has been vacant since Cancino’s departure from Tufts in January. The Latino Center was one of three identity-based centers, along with the Asian American and Women’s Centers, that students voiced concerns about at a March town hall meeting for the lack of job postings for permanent director positions. Marvin Casasola, former manager at Boston University’s study abroad office, has been appointed interim program administrator while the search for a center director takes place.

LGBT Center

The LGBT Center at Tufts was founded in September 1992, but an organization for LGBTQ students predated the Center’s founding by at least two decades.

The Tufts Gay Community, the university’s first organization for gay students, was formed in spring 1972. It later expanded to include lesbian and bisexual students.

The student group also secured funding from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate for a professional coordinator position in 1988, who later became part of the university’s staff when the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Resource Center — later renamed the LGBT Center — opened in 1992.

Students, alongside faculty and staff, continued to advocate for improvements to LGBTQ student life at Tufts, such as serving on the Task Force on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues in 1992–93, setting up the Rainbow House in 1998 and changing the university’s nondiscrimination policy after a student was discriminated based on sexual orientation by a student group in 2000.

The center hired its first full-time director in 1997. Current Director Hope Freeman is the eighth person to lead the center and has been at Tufts since March 2017.

Women’s Center

The Women’s Center was founded in 1972, driven by student energy and organizing from its very beginning at Tufts.

The Center was first funded as a student group by TCU Senate in 1972 and given space on campus, before hiring part-time center coordinator and health and sexuality coordinator positions in 1974. It did not become an administrative office led by a center director until 1985.

Along the way, students have played a key role in the Women’s Center programming — from activism and peer education to violence prevention. The center’s student board, renamed Students Acting for Gender Equality in 2009, worked on the university’s gender-neutral housing policy. Student interns at the center have also been active in organizing the weekly POC Circle discussion group and the annual Women’s Center Symposium.

Since former Director K. Martinez left Tufts in 2018, LGBT Center Director Freeman has stepped in as interim director of the Women’s Center. Martinez acknowledged the high turnover in the position in an April 12, 2018 Daily article. The position has since been vacant for more than a year.

Most recently, Jessica Mitzner, current graduate assistant at the center and Ph.D. candidate in English, has been appointed as the center’s new interim program administrator.

This is not the first time that former and current students have stepped in to fill the staffing needs of the Women’s Center. Between the departure and hiring of directors, former graduate assistants Sue Gilbert (AG ’05, N ’13) and Bryn Gravitt, who is currently earning her doctorate in English, served as interim director for two years from 2006 to 2008 and 1 1/2 years from 2016 to 2017 respectively.

“My goal in this position [of interim program administrator] is not about changing the Women’s Center, but about providing students with the support they need and working to expand the wonderful community that has already been established at the Center,” Mitzner told the Daily in an email. “We are currently moving forward with hiring for the open Director position, which will further help us support the students in the Women’s Center community.”


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