Tufts’ FIRST Resource Center held its grand opening ceremony on Oct. 1 in the Alumnae Lounge. The center, located at 20 Professors Row, will be open 24/7 for students who fill out an online request form, according to Associate Director for Student Success and Advising Margot Cardamone.
The center, supported by the Office of Student Success and Advising (OSSA), is the university’s new, consolidated resource for students who identify as first-generation, low-income or undocumented, and now is one of a handful of buildings with round-the-clock access on a Tufts ID card. Inside, students can find formal and informal meeting spaces as well as free printing, according to Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Robert Mack, who is also associate dean for student success and advising.
Mack said that the goal is to provide a space for building a community and increase accessibility to key resources.
At the grand opening, Mack thanked everyone involved in the center’s establishment for their passion and effort. Mack said that he was a first-generation, low-income college student and shared his insights for students who identify in similar ways.
“Navigating the university can be challenging,” he said. “But it’s our goal to make sure it’s as easy as possible, and to make sure those barriers are not in your way.”
University President Anthony Monaco also shared his own experience navigating an Ivy League university as a first-generation, low-income student. He said that the university administration is taking steps to grow the first-generation student presence through annual increases to its overall financial aid, and is committed to support the work of OSSA and the FIRST Center.
Monaco also said that Tufts remains committed to supporting students covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“[Students under DACA] are a very important part of our community that we will continue to fight for,” Monaco said.
Cardamone told the Daily in an interview that she hopes the new center’s round-the-clock availability will appeal to students.
“We’re hoping that with the 24/7 access, if students feel they need a place to congregate, they can, whenever necessary,” Cardamone said.
Shahjada (“Prince”) Islam, director of programming for the First-Generation College Student Council, believes that the goal of the center space is to foster a sense of belonging and community for students who may feel out of place on a college campus.
“Particularly for first-gen students, coming to Tufts can be a huge culture shock,” Islam, a junior, said. “It’s really hard to find places on campus where you think, ‘okay, I could just be here whenever.’”
He added that 24/7 access will make the center a place that students feel a sense of ownership over.
Islam also said that the First-Generation College Student Council hosts biweekly hangouts where students meet over food, with games, movies and icebreakers. In the past, those activities have been held at the Latino Center or Women’s Center, but now he says they will be located at the FIRST Center.
Islam listed the Book It Forward lending library, Swipe It Forward meal bank, medical co-pays and emergency funds as several of the resources OSSA provides, which are also accessible at the FIRST Center. Additionally, there are mentors available at the center who can support students as they navigate the academic world at Tufts, Islam added.
Prior to the center’s opening, resources for first-generation, low-income and undocumented students, such as the student success advisors, were spread across campus, according to Bizaye Banjaw, president of the First-Generation Student Council.
“Dean Mack was in Dowling, Margot [Cardamone] and Jared [Smith] were all in different dorms,” Banjaw, a sophomore, said. “Having a really physical place is the most exciting part of all of this. It makes it so much easier. You can just point somewhere and it’s all there.”
Banjaw stated that being in close proximity to the resources she needs makes her feel less stressed.
“I know the people who want me to succeed are living right downstairs from where I’m doing homework and that makes it easier — tenfold,” she said.
Senior Bethany Kirby said that historically, it’s been hard to build a community because it’s difficult to know who identifies as first-generation or low-income on campus. She believes the center will foster that growth.
“This provides a space for all of us to come together and to really provide that community and know one another on campus,” Kirby said.
Islam said the FIRST Center vastly improves the student experience.
“I feel like now, more so than ever before, [it] is the best time to be a first-gen, low-income or undocumented student on campus,” Islam said. “There’s a lot of support in place … and I’m just really happy that is becoming a reality here at Tufts.”