K. Martinez, the director of the Women’s Center, will be leaving Tufts on April 13. In their past 11 months as director, Martinez has spearheaded a number of changes and updates to the Women’s Center and overseen projects and programs on a larger scale.
Martinez’s first order of business as director was to renovate the Women’s Center.
“Luckily we had money in our budget, and I was able to use those funds to create a new aesthetic [in the Women’s Center],” Martinez said. “We changed the paint, the artwork, the furniture, and that was really big to change how people engaged with the space. I’ve heard nothing but really positive comments from people; they feel like it’s a really welcoming space.”
Artwork in the Women’s Center features women of color, exposing students to images they might not often see on campus, according to Martinez. In this sense, Martinez emphasized that the Women’s Center seeks to be countercultural.
“[With the makeover] I think we sent a message to the campus that we are really intentional with our space, what it looks like and what it feels like, and that we’re paying particular attention to people who don’t often see themselves elsewhere on this campus,” they said.
Fatima Blanca Munoz, a staff assistant at the Women’s Center, stressed that Martinez has done important work not just for the Women’s Center, but also for the university as a whole.
“I have been at Tufts for about 3 years now and I now see more and more students enter the space more than I did previously,” Munoz told the Daily in an email. “Almost every day, the center is packed with students from all genders and races.”
Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon echoed this sentiment.
“During their time at Tufts, K. spearheaded a number of interdepartmental initiatives for the Office of Student Affairs, including working with the Provost’s Bridging [Differences] campaign throughout the 2017-18 academic year,” McMahon told the Daily in an email. “They also have overseen various projects and programs at the Women’s Center, including a highly acclaimed update to the Center’s space and the creation of programs like the P.O.C. Circle.”
From personal experience and first-hand account, Munoz knows the impact Martinez has had on the Women’s Center as a space, as well as the students that inhabit it.
“I have repeatedly heard from students that the Women’s Center is a place they feel most comfortable and I think that speaks to the hard work K has put into the physical transformation of the center and its intersectional programmings,” Munoz said.
Martinez has made a lot of effort to go to people and tell them, “You are welcome at the Women’s Center.”
“I’ve gotten to meet other students who haven’t had a relationship to the Women’s Center before, and they have been here for some time. Because of me, they have come here,” they said. “Something about what I’ve done and how I’ve done it has reached a new audience of people who have already been here.”
However, on multiple occasions throughout Martinez’s 11 months on Tufts campus, they have questioned whether Tufts is the place for them. Issues of faculty retention, lack of opportunities for professional growth and the campus culture, as well as the greater Boston area culture, led Martinez to question their place and presence.
Selected from over 100 people nationwide who applied to be director of the Women’s Center, Martinez stood out. Additionally, their prior role as Associate Director of the Diversity and First-Gen Office at Stanford University and next position in Philadelphia both involved national searches.
“While I feel like the university paid a lot of attention and put in a lot of energy in the hiring and recruitment, I don’t feel like the same amount of energy is invested in the retention of people,” Martinez said. “The work doesn’t stop once we get here.”
Budget issues at Tufts meant Martinez, among others, saw a significant decrease in the amount of money and resources allotted to staff for professional development and growth over the past year.
“I value being able to stay up to date [on] what colleagues are doing in the field,” they said. “The only way I’m going to grow and become a better director of the Women’s Center is if I keep surrounding myself with people that are learning.”
Having lived in New Orleans, La., and Oakland, Calif., Martinez said coming back to Boston, their hometown, was an eye-opening experience. Martinez has found the city is not a welcoming place for people of color like them.
“Being a person of color and genderqueer, I felt like I just stood out,” they said. “Medford and Tufts are not in a bubble, the hostility from Boston and the area permeates here too.”
Over the past summer, Martinez had an experience, which they documented in the Observer, where they did not feel welcome on Tufts’ campus.
Despite these circumstances and situations, Martinez believes the students have made their time at Tufts worthwhile.
“They are committed to asking these questions of ‘what do we need to do at Tufts to make people feel more welcome?’ They really care,” Martinez said. “I look back at my time here and I love what we’ve done. I love that there are days that I just come in [the Women’s Center] and there’d just be students everywhere.”
Over the course of their tenure at Tufts, Martinez estimates they have worked with at least 300 students through trainings and workshops that explore concepts such as gender identity.
“I know that what I’m committed to is diversity, inclusion and equity,” Martinez said. “Always asking questions wherever I go, whatever institution or organization I’m a part of, and really questioning what is our default and never accepting that the way we’re doing things now can’t be changed and improved.”
In terms of next steps, Martinez is excited to be working in a new field after 11 years in higher education. They will continue to work on diversity, equity and inclusion in Philadelphia.
According to McMahon, a process of devising an interim-staffing plan in coordination with staff and student leaders is currently in the works.
“My immediate priority is to have an established coverage plan, including continuous support for students, in place for the rest of the academic year,” she wrote. “Then we plan to search for a director with the hopes of naming someone by the start of the school year.”
As Martinez transitions out of their role as director, they have thought about the turnover the position has had: seven directors in the past three years. Students have created a list of requests, which includes the demand for an Interim Director to be named as soon as possible and full-time support staff, to ensure the well-being and sustainability of the Women’s Center.
“I put a lot of time and energy into every square inch of this space, as well as our mission and vision,” Martinez said. “I want to make sure we help students feel there’s a sense of security and stability here.”