Op-Ed: Re-envisioning community for the Asian American Center

It is a slow day at the Asian American Center. An intern works quietly at their desk until someone rings the doorbell. When someone (if anyone) comes by, they feel an urge to justify their presence to the silence within the walls of Start House. A half hour later, a resident’s steps echo as they run down the stairs, coming and going, then nothing.

This narrative fits the image of the Center that circulates around campus and discourages others from visiting this seemingly exclusive and limited space. As a current intern and Peer Leader at the Center, I myself recognize the many flaws within the confines of Start House. The silence that pervades the Center creates discomfort for those who visit, and I know that if I did not have access to the Center’s door, I myself would not willingly enter.

To say that community does not exist within the small confines of 17 Latin Way, though, would be to dismiss the strength and solidarity I have found among Peer Leaders, fellow interns and the residents of the Asian American House. When these people come through the door, love and care come as well. We celebrate birthdays, share food and confess our grievances to one another. In these moments, the Center becomes a community of care, and I wonder why others do not visit the Center.

But I know the answer to that question. The Center is not visited often because, to many people, its inaccessibility has become a symbol of the Center’s intentional exclusiveness. The locked door is a barrier to those without a direct connection to Center programming and simply adds to the lack of support that students feel they have within this space.

Yet, as I think of the silence that creeps through the Center, I am reminded of how silence has played a role in discrediting the experiences of Asians/Asian-Americans by socially stifling their voices. In my opinion, this mirrors the Center’s current capacity. Because of the legacy of the locked front door and limited space, the Asian0American community has been further silenced even within its own Center. Instead of providing a space for students to build an empowered community around Asian-American identity, the community has been fragmented.

I am constantly amazed at the ways in which Asian-Americans around the country resist and fight for their right to thrive. I wish I could say that the Asian American Center supported the same actions at Tufts, but in its current state, it fails to do more than just survive in the concrete-and-brick jungle that is Tufts University. It has been crippled by its inaccessibility and its lack of space, which prevent Asian/Asian-American students from collaborating in community organizing.

There are times when I cannot help but think that it is better to just leave the Center as is. Yet, I am constantly reminded of the laughter within these walls and the stories that have been shared. I know that there is the potential for transformative community at the Asian American Center, and I can only begin to imagine the possibilities for the Center if it were to be expanded and open.

Although the Asian American Center in its current state cannot fully serve the students it is meant to support, we must begin to re-envision what community could look like if Asian American Housing were to be relocated elsewhere. Let us not be silenced by accepting the current state of Asian American community that exists at Tufts as a result of the Center. Instead, let us make the Center a truly accessible space, not just for Asian/Asian-American students, but for all of the Tufts student community.