The Asian American House (Start House) has been the site of many of my happy memories at Tufts. During the three semesters I lived in the house, my housemates became some of my closest friends. I met new people in the Asian/Asian American community just by hanging out in the House. I learned new things from all the events the Center hosted. I got to coordinate events that create spaces lacking on campus, such as a discussion dinner for Asian international students. The House and the community it represented felt like home for me.
Even so, I know a lot of people in the Asian/Asian American community do not feel the same way. During my first year at Tufts, I also felt that the Asian American Center space was not for me. Having to ring the doorbell, wait for the intern to let me in and awkwardly explain why I was coming to the house all made the space unwelcoming. I wanted to find a space outside of my dorm room where I could just be, but the one space that seemed to speak to the identity salient to me — an Asian international student — had its door locked to me.
According to a survey sent out to the Asian/Asian American community, 37 percent of the respondents have only visited the center once or twice throughout their time at Tufts. Many people also commented that the limiting physical space hinders the center’s accessibility.
Currently, the only official space for the Asian American Center is the director’s office. There are more than 1,000 students who self-identify as Asian, yet the Center cannot serve as a community space for such a big community because of its limited space and inaccessibility.
The colocation of the Center and the House does not provide a good living space for the residents, either. My housemates and I had our belongings stolen from our rooms when the common areas were being used for meetings. We had to open the door early morning on the weekends for clubs to retrieve their supplies from the basement. By having the Center and the House at the same space, neither side can cater fully to its respective purpose.
A living space dedicated for Asian/Asian American students is equally important as having an openly accessible Center. There are many moments of learning and growth, that would not have happened were it not for the space, both physical and emotional, that brought people together. I felt safe, understood and heard while living in the House. In a predominantly White institution like Tufts where Asian/Asian American students are repeatedly silenced, having a space where I had a voice was so important.
The Asian/Asian American community I know at Tufts is one characterized by loving compassion. Its members are constantly striving to create more space for sharing and connecting. If the Asian American Center space cannot serve its purpose, where else will we find a space that is for us?
I would love to see the Center become a space for the community the way that it was to me. For me, the House was a study space, a makeshift library, a movie room, an impromptu dance floor and a space where conversations flowed over meals. I would love to see the space become one that is truly accessible to all members of the community. I would love to see students feeling that they had the option of living in a house that was home for them, too.