Prince Islam and Bizaye Banjaw, co-presidents of the First-Generation Student Council, pose for a photo together in the Women's Center during one of their bi-weekly First-Gen Hangouts. (Anika Agarwal / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts introduces Center, pre-orientation program for first-generation students

Next fall, Tufts will be implementing two new resources for low-income, undocumented and first-generation students: a first-generation center, called the F1rst Center, located at 20 Professors Row, and a new pre-orientation program called BEAST (Building Engagement and Access for Students at Tufts). The Office for Student Success and Advising (OSSA) has been working with student communities to implement these changes, according to Robert Mack, associate dean for Student Success and Advising, and Shannon Lee, diversity and community affairs 0fficer for the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate.

The center is meant to serve as a meeting place for anyone who identifies as a first-generation, low-income or undocumented student, according to Mack. This includes members of the First-Generation College Student Council and the organizations it oversees, such as Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts (BLAST), Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) and QuestBridge Scholars, according to Bizaye Banjaw, a first-year and co-president of the First Generation College Student Council.

“Right now, what is lacking from the first-generation college students’ community is a place to gather and a place to call home on campus,” Lee said.

Mack, the principal force behind these changes, explains that the center is meant to be an open, welcoming space for anyone to use.

“It wouldn’t be a space exclusively for [BLAST or BEST]. It’s a space for the community, and members of these programs would be welcome to use the space,” he explained.

Student Success Advisor Jared Smith agrees.

“If you identify, you’re more than welcome to take part in the resources,” he said.

According to First Generation College Student Council Co-Presidents Shahjada (“Prince”) Islam and Banjaw, the First-Generation College Student Council has been holding “hangouts” open to students who identify as first-generation once every two weeks with food and music.

Islam and Banjaw expressed excitement for finally having a place to hold meetings. According to Islam, a sophomore, the number of students attending has been increasing in part, he believes, because of the announcement of a new center. Banjaw expressed excitement at finally having a purposeful space where first-generation students can gather.

The OSSA is also in the process of developing BEAST, a new pre-orientation program meant to help students navigate the transition to college. According to Mack, BEAST will be a four-day program that lines up with many of the other pre-orientation programs.

Mack explained that the program will help prepare students to manage their financial responsibilities in college.

“It’ll give us a chance to help those students navigate what’s ahead for them in terms of the financial cost … for them to transition to Tufts and feel like they can navigate that space,” he stated. “[It will also help] build communities, connect them through services and other people on campus, and hopefully just … have a lot of fun.”

While the program is meant to be an option for incoming first-generation students, it will be open to anyone who feels as though they would benefit from the program’s prioritization of engagement and access, Mack explained.

Mack said that he and the OSSA want to make sure that students are involved in the development of these resources as well. In January, Mack held a meeting with Lee, Islam, Banjaw and other members of the first-generation community to gather student input on the new resources.

“The reason we pulled together a group of students is to help inform the center and the [pre-orientation] as we move forward,” Mack said. “We really want this to be from the students and a space for them, and really have their input and their contributions.”

Lee said student input helped the OSSA determine how BEAST should build students’ financial skills, but also how the program can serve as a fun introduction to life at Tufts.

“In that meeting … we talked about how it needs to be fun, like exploring Boston, exploring Tufts,” she said. “We made the analogy to GO [Global Orientation] or SQUAD [Students’ Quest for Unity in the African Diaspora], where we’re doing fun activities. It’s not all just, ‘How do you fill out these really complicated forms?’ but also, ‘How can we have fun in a community like this?’”

Lee also stressed that these are not TCU Senate initiatives. She emphasized that the OSSA, and especially Mack, have been making it the university’s priority to provide first-generation students with these resources.

“Dean Mack told me in one of our meetings that the reason he’s making it a priority is because it’s often on the backs and burden of students of color and students with marginalized identities to make these policy changes happen, and he wanted to change that,” Lee said.

Mack confirmed this sentiment, explaining that he wanted to show students that the university supports them.

“Historically, a lot of the things that have caused change here at the university has come from activism and student demands and students really putting in a lot of time,” he said. “I really wanted to see our office work with our student administration to make that happen so … they could have the space, but not have to work to get it.”

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