Group of Six reflects on a year of change

Five identity centers are shown. Daniel Montoya / The Tufts Daily

The Group of Six, a collection of six centers that provides resources and outlets for students considering their social identities, according to the Tufts student life website, has undergone several changes in leadership and structure over the past year.

The Group of Six is made up of the Latino Center, Africana Center, LGBT Center, Women’s Center, FIRST Resource Center and Asian American Center.

The Asian American, Women’s and Latino Centers currently lack directors.

K. Martinez, the former director of the Women’s Center, announced their departure in an April 2018 op-ed in the Daily, citing racism and transphobia they experienced on and off campus as reasons for their departure.

In the op-ed, Martinez pointed to their interview in a fall 2017 Observer article, where they explained they were approached by the Tufts University Police Department without reason.

“It seemed like we were all questioning our sense of belonging as a result of these interactions so early in the year,” they said in the op-ed.

Martinez also emphasized the importance of their role and identity at Tufts.

Tufts University was particularly special as the Women’s Center and LGBT Center were led by two Queer Trans People Of Color under 35 for an academic year. What other institution in the U.S. could say the same?” Martinez wrote.

The former director of the Latino Center, Julián Cancino, also announced his departure in an op-ed, written in January, without stating his reasoning. He highlighted his experiences working as director.

Together we made Tufts Latino Center a family of families,” Cancino said in the op-ed.We expanded our mission and redesigned our programs to be more inclusive and diverse.”

Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Robert Mack said in an email to the Daily that the positions for new Center directors have been posted and search committees are being finalized; however, Mack said the process to find directors can take several months. In the meantime, the Centers are staffed by temporary leadership.

Hope Freeman, director of the LGBT Center, now serves as the interim director of the Women’s Center following the departure of Martinez in April 2018.

I volunteered to support the Women’s Center as interim director because the initial search for a Women’s Center Director failed last summer,” Freeman said in an email to the Daily.

Rebeca Becdach, a Peer Leader at the Latino Center, said that she felt the impact of Cancino’s departure.

“I think the other LPL’s and I noticed the shift in that things seemed up in the air for a while after Julian left,” Becdach, a rising junior, told the Daily in an electronic message. “However Keeley and Dean Ou have been great about keeping us informed about the search for new leadership and making sure that we kept having meetings and events at the center.”

Freeman added that, although the process for finding directors is taking time, finding the right director is the priority.

“The process for hiring directors vary in length and time taken …  It is more important to us to have a good fit over just filling a position,” she said.

Freeman emphasized that the lack of directors is not hurting the daily functioning of the Centers, and that some staff members have made efforts to ensure the smooth running of the Centers.

Raymond Ou, senior associate dean of student affairs, and Keeley Cormac Dower, the staff assistant at the LGBT and Latino Centers, are the “designated point people for anything related to the Latino Center,” according to an email sent to Latino Center community members in February. 

The International Center left the Group of Six formerly known as the Group of Seven — collective last year due to the consolidation of the three international offices at Tufts, on the Medford/Somerville, Fletcher and Boston Health Sciences campuses, according to International Center Director Andrew Shiotani.

As a result of this merger, Shiotani said the International Center was moved from the jurisdiction of the Office of Student Affairs, under which the other Centers reside, to the jurisdiction of the Office of the Provost.

Shiotani added that the move was partially justified by the fact that the Office of the Provost and the International Center both deal with immigration policies for campuses.

I think our new location within the Provost’s Office has allowed us to participate in important discussions and get us better access to resources we need to improve our ability to serve our international student and scholar community,” he said in an email to the Daily.

Despite the move, Shiotani said that ties with the Office of Student Affairs continue.

At the same time, we continue to maintain relationships with our colleagues and partners in Student Affairs and other parts of the university,” he said.

Additionally, Shiotani became the director of the International Center in January following the retirement of former Director Jane Etish-Andrews, who had worked at Tufts for 35 years.

“It’s been a year of change,” Shiotani said. “I am doing my best to fill her shoes! However, everyone has been rising to the occasion and as we get settled into a new pattern of doing our work, I think we’ll be fine.

Shiotani emphasized that, despite not formally being a part of the Group of Six, the International Center shares many of the same goals as the other Centers and works closely with them.

“When I arrived at Tufts I was pleased that my colleagues from the other centers were among the first to meet and welcome me,” he said. “I look forward to continue to find ways of maintaining those connections and bridges in the future.”

Although the International Center is still adapting to changes, Shiotani is optimistic about the Center’s future.

“With our new mission and role of serving the entire University – not just Medford / Somerville but all campuses – we’re working to identify the needs of our students across all of our locations,” he said.I’m working with the International Center team to develop a strategy for expanding outreach and programming so that we’re both efficient and effective in fulfilling our mandate or mission.”

Additionally, the FIRST Resource Center has completed its first year of operation and developed programs that support first-generation students on campus, according to Mack.

The FIRST Resource Center had a great first year offering a pre-orientation program (BEAST), and offered a comprehensive student centered services to our first generation college goers, those on financial aid, and those with undocumented status,” Mack said.

Bethany Kirby, a peer leader with the FIRST Resource Center, said in an interview with the Daily that the Center holds workshops and social activities for first-generation students. A first-generation student herself, Kirby, a senior, emphasized the importance of a resource for students of this identity.

“When I came into Tufts four years ago, we had nothing. We had Dean Mack and that was essentially it. And so throughout the four years just seeing how many resources there are for first-gen students really just culminated in the creation of the First-Gen Center,” she said.

Kirby also commented on the importance of the new Center for first-years of first-generation, low-income or undocumented status.

“Incoming [first-years] are definitely going to have strong bonds with each other as first-generation, low-income or students with undocumented status,” she said.

The experience of having a center dedicated to first-generation students has impacted her own experience as well, she said.

“I think that it really has enriched my my experience in the sense that I’ve met so many more students with my identities,” Kirby said.

A goal for the Group of Six next year is to fill the vacancies in directors, according to Freeman.