Latino Center Director Rubén Salinas Stern will retire this August after working at Tufts for 24 years, according to an email sent to the Latinx community on April 6. Stern explained that he made the decision to retire for several personal reasons and after realizing that it was hard to remain energized in such a bustling environment and atypical job.
“This is a very youthful environment, Student Affairs as a whole,” Stern said. “I was starting to feel old and Student Affairs people work a lot of hours. They work weekends, they work nights. It’s not your typical job in that sense.”
Stern will be succeeded by Melissa Colón, a research analyst in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, as interim director for the 2017–2018 academic year, according to Stern.
Stern said he arrived at Tufts in 1993 to a Latinx community that felt nonexistent to many, and to no space whatsoever for students who identified as Latinx. Since then, through both his own and student efforts, the Latinx community at Tufts has thrived and has taken on a greater leadership role at Tufts, according to Stern.
“When I got here, what I heard about the Latino community was that it was invisible,” Stern said. “That’s the term I used to hear. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I see a supportive community.”
In particular, Stern noted that the number of students who identify as Latino at Tufts has increased from about 175 in the 1990s to more than 300 now. He also said that more students have taken on leadership positions at Tufts.
Marisel Perez, an associate dean of student affairs, attributes such progress partially to Stern’s efforts to harness the voices of Latinx-identifying students and welcome other students with marginalized identities on campus.
“I think that Rubén has opened those doors very effectively to make sure that the center is a place where everybody who wants to be part of it or visit it feels welcome,” Perez said. “It’s not just the Latino Center. It’s a center [for] a lot of students who may not necessarily identify as Latino, but they feel a certain alliance and sense of community by going there.”
Perez worked with Stern in 2003 on an education and outreach project after several “incidents of bias” — particularly acts of discrimination such as derogatory graffiti — made many Latinx students on campus feel unwelcome, according to Perez.
“We used the opportunity to, through the peer group, do a lot of outreach education,” Perez said. “Rubén was part of the conceptualization of that initiative, but it wasn’t just one incident. It was just a need to have that kind of [education] like peer leaders. We would go to the residence halls, mostly the students, and put together programs that raised awareness about diversity.”
Stern worked to educate the Tufts community about diversity through these peer groups and as a member of the diversity council, which Perez also served on. She explained that he became a leader in the social justice movement on campus.
“He and Linell [Yugawa] introduced social justice here way back several years ago and has been a part of a lot of initiatives and is sort of the soul of the work we do in Student Affairs,” Perez said.
Stern also established a peer leader program. Gladys Argueta Xiloj, a junior who worked with Stern as a Latino Peer Leader her sophomore year and as a current intern at the Latino Center, described working with Stern.
“Working with [Stern] has been very interesting because he’s a very strong individual, I think, but it makes the other person also have strong opinions,” Argueta Xiloj said. “A lot of interns know what kind of things people want from the center, what kind of things are bothering people or what they want to see fixed, and so those are things we bring up to him.”
Argueta Xiloj recognizes Stern as an important mentor for her, and she hopes the next director will continue to listen to students and address concerns within the Latinx community, according to Argueta Xiloj.
“I think there’s always a discussion about everyone’s Latinidad and [that] you don’t have to be a certain way to be at the center that, I think, is still not getting across like it should. And that’s what’s keeping people out of the center,” Argueta Xiloj said. “‘I don’t think I’m Latino enough to be at the center’ or ‘I don’t only want to hang out with Latinos’ — I think that’s definitely something the new director should address.”
Similarly, Perez hopes that the succeeding director has the same dedication to students as Stern.
“It’s not an academic center or research center. It’s a student center,” she said. “Whoever comes in has a kind of student commitment that Rubén has had for years and that personal commitment to really know somebody, not just a name or who they are.”
As Stern reflected on his time at Tufts, he said that some of his most memorable experiences were bringing Edward James Olmos, a Mexican American actor, to campus; traveling to Cuba with students for eight years; teaching a course called Class Matters and chairing the undocumented students working group.
That said, he wishes he could have further developed some projects, such as the Latino Studies minor, a study abroad program to Cuba and better integrating the Group of Six Centers into the university as a whole.
“I was part of a working group with faculty that came up with Latino studies and decided to make it a standalone as opposed to part of Latin American studies,” Stern said. “So we petitioned for that. We got students involved and it was established without any additional funding. However, there has not been on the part of the administration any movement whatsoever.”
Stern also noted that Tufts currently does not require students to take courses on social justice and that there is a divide between students who are engaged in activism and those who are not.
“That puts too much of the burden on students of color,” Stern said.
Stern hopes that the future director makes these changes and expressed his sincere gratitude and appreciation for the Latinx community and the Latino Center space.
“It’s my baby,” Stern said. “I spend as many hours here as I do in my own home. It feels like my home. I think it’s an amazing space. I think it’s the best space on campus as far as I’m concerned.”