Senate adds community senator for first-generation students

TCU Senator and first-generation community senator proponent, Charlie Zhen poses for a portrait shot outside Hodgdon Hall on April 24. Vintus Okonkwo / The Tufts Daily

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate will have a first-generation community senator for the first time in the upcoming fall semester. The process was spearheaded by Charlie Zhen, a rising junior senator, who will be the Asian American Community Senator and chair of the Student Outreach Committee next year.

This new position will join six existing community senator positions: the Asian American, Africana, Latino, International, Women’s and LGBTQ+ community senators. The elections for these positions are campus-wide, according to the TCU Senate constitutionTCU Senate Parliamentarian Adam Rapfogel explained that Zhen began the project to create the position by gathering about 250 signatures from students in all class years.

“Charlie has been working on this project for months and decided to bring it up for a vote in Senate,” Rapfogel, a rising junior, told the Daily in an email.

According to Zhen, community senators provide important and oftentimes left out perspectives to the conversations in TCU Senate.

“The First-Gen Community Senator will be tasked with representing first-generation student voices in Senate,” he said. “I personally see it as working towards a Community Center, adding more resources and working in areas that affect first-generation students, like with financial aid or the Career Center.”

Zhen explained that the new community senator will sit on committees and vote like regular senators, but also support the first-generation student community by working with and advocating for them.

Although this will be the first community senator position that is not tied to a Group of Six center, neither Zhen nor Benya Kraus, next year’s TCU President and rising senior, believe this will present obstacles to representation or a lack of resources.

“There will be some unique challenges, but what is really exciting is that there are also a lot of areas for growth,” Kraus said. “They have a very established community already and I think that’s a huge benefit. They have the institutional support of [Dean of Student Success and Advising Robert Mack], and the student-initiated project of the First-Gen Council … has grown in terms of size and engagement.”

Both Kraus and Zhen agreed that the formation of a First-Generation Community Center is a future goal for both TCU Senate and likely for next year’s first-generation community senator.

“We can do more by creating spaces for first-gen students to think and reflect and come together to find solidarity about their identity,” Kraus said. “A community center could help be this space.”

According to Zhen, many people have expressed interest in running for this position in the fall, and he expects the election to be contested. Zhen has no specific plans in mind for the person who would fill this position, and Kraus agreed that it should be left up to the incoming senator to do whatever they feel is best for the first-generation community.

“Whoever runs should do whatever they see fit,” Zhen said. “I hope they do a lot of reaching out to the community and presenting themselves as a resource.”

According to Zhen, this position has sparked interest and discussion about creating other community senators as well to improve representation and diversity in TCU SenateKraus agreed that Senate could do more to include a wider variety of voices, and that the creation of community senator positions is a strong first step.

“The idea of having community senators is to look at what identities historically and currently have not been present in the Senate, and what identities need to be there in order to say that we are trying to be a representative body,” Kraus said. “If we are systematically and historically excluding voices, then that’s what the community senator is there for. And even for communities that there aren’t and won’t be centers for, I hope that we can still work to get the representation for liaison positions like community senators.”

Gregory Chin, the chair of the First-Generation Student Council and a Board of Trustees Representative, explained that it is valuable to have a voice for the more than 500 first-generation students on campus, particularly because the first-generation identity is not always visible. He said it is especially important to support first-generation students because their success in college impacts their families and communities as well.

“Navigating college for the first time in your family line is a unique experience like no other,” Chin, a rising senior, told the Daily in an email. “It’s an opportunity, [a] responsibility and I would argue even a privilege of both the TCU Senate and the Tufts Administration to make that trailblazing less hard.”