Tufts students and community members are advocating for a more accessible Asian American Center in Start House, by relocating Asian-American identity-based housing from the house so that the Center’s office is no longer located in a residential building.
The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Nov. 19 calling for this change. The resolution was written by Asian American Center intern Ana Sofia Amieva-Wang, Asian American Community Senator Charlie Zhen, Diversity and Community Affairs Officer Shannon Lee and TCU Historian Jacqueline Chen.
Challenges in current space
The Asian American Center was created in 1983 “after an incident of blatant intentional racism due to pressure from the Asian American community and its allies,” the resolution stated.
According to the resolution, the only space officially designated for the Asian American Center is the office of Asian American Center Director Linell Yugawa.
The office is located inside the Start House, which is the school’s Asian American identity-based house. The front door of the house is locked at all times due to its status as a residential space, and only residents and interns have card access, according to Amieva-Wang, a junior. Interns are present at the house during all Center hours to open the door for other students, she added.
In an op-ed published on Nov. 20, Center intern Thao Ho wrote about how the inaccessibility of the space alienates students. Additionally, in a Nov. 13 op-ed, Start House resident Katy Lee mentioned that the shared space of the Center and the residence also pose problems of invasion of privacy.
“The colocation of the Center and the House does not provide a good living space for the residents, either,” she wrote. “My housemates and I had our belongings stolen from our rooms when the common areas were being used for meetings.”
The lack of control over the space also makes planning events difficult. For example, interns are not allowed to move furniture because it is property of the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife), Amieva-Wang said.
According to Zhen, a junior, students have voiced concerns about the inaccessibility of the Asian American Center for quite a while. This past spring, Zhen released a survey asking about student opinions regarding the house, the locked door, and how they envisioned the space.
In the survey, the vast majority of respondents said that an unlocked door would make them “significantly more inclined” or “slightly more inclined” to visit the Center, according to Zhen. A focus group he conducted also highlighted issues brought up by students, including how the Center did not fulfill the needs of the community, he said.
Asian American Center Staff Assistant Fatima Blanca Munoz agreed that the locked door can make students who visit the Center uncomfortable.
“[Students] basically have to ring the doorbell and announce why they’re there and what they’re doing there,” she said. “It’s a residential building, so it doesn’t feel as welcoming.”
Amieva-Wang mentioned that, during a standard three-hour shift, frequently no one came into the Center. In fact, before she started working at the Center, she had not considered it a space in which she could seek community. After spending time there as an intern, however, her sentiment has changed.
“The Asian American Center really is a place I have found community this semester just from working there, because I spend a lot of time with the interns and house residents,” she said.
Renewed calls for an improved space
As a result of her concerns, Amieva-Wang spoke to Yugawa, house residents and other interns about the lack of student engagement with the Center. According to Lee, a sophomore, Yugawa and community members have pushed for changes in the past, but did not have the needed student support to effect proper change — in part due to the fact that students did not have an accessible space to interact and mobilize. Yugawa did not respond to requests for an interview by press time.
To address the inaccessibility of the Center, Amieva-Wang created a petition calling for the creation of accessibility to the Center through the relocation of Start House. The petition was released in early November, and as of press time, more than 550 Tufts community members are listed as signatories.
The petition, in addition to demanding relocation of residences from Start House, calls for an expansion of the Center’s footprint within the building. It proposes a social space, meeting rooms, a creative space and a community library.
Zhen stated that timing was a key factor in the success of garnering support for the project that was lacking in previous years.
“I don’t think students in the past have really been able to translate the frustrations into action in the same way,” he told the Daily in an e-mail. “I think right now Tufts is at an interesting place in examining spatial equity and social spaces, and that has been vital in allowing us to gain momentum and use our voices in the current conversation.”
Zhen also mentioned that calls for the abolition of Greek life have prompted students to openly critique how spaces on campus are utilized for different communities. Amieva-Wang had a similar assessment.
“I think we feel that right now we have the momentum and the support from other students who were excited about this — that it could happen,” she said.
Lee added that it can be frustrating for change at Tufts to take so much student effort.
“This is a core struggle that a lot of marginalized students at Tufts feel — that nothing ever happens unless they themselves push for change,” she said. “At the end of the day we’re students. We’re paying to be here. All this should not be on students to push administrators.”
After receiving much support from the community, a TCU Senate resolution was written based on the demands listed in the petition, said Amieva-Wang. The resolution text was released on Nov. 12 and was passed during the TCU Senate meeting the following Sunday on Nov. 19.
Lee said that marginalized groups on campus are in need of institutional support that is not currently provided, and that the resolution is just the beginning.
“We hope this sparks a larger conversation around what resources are being allocated, where and how can we create more inclusive spaces on this campus,” she said. “The Centers provide a critical resource for underrepresented students, and if they are unable to even allow them access to their space, how can they be expected to be able to support students?”
Amieva-Wang, Lee, Chen and Zhen are now in the process of organizing meetings with school administrators to implement the resolution, according to Amieva-Wang. They hope to have completed the project by next fall. Amieva-Wang hopes to see more student engagement with this effort.
“I think it’s really important at this point in the process that we get other students involved in re-envisioning what we want in an inclusive Center,” she said.