For the past 11 months, I have been the Director of the Women’s Center. At 32 years old, I am the first Queer Gender Non-Conforming Afro-Latinx person in this position and the youngest hire. At this moment in time, 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? While enduring a Trump regime which spews racist, transphobic and misogynistic rhetoric and policy daily, knowing I had these colleagues made me feel supported and like we were leaders of a new school of intersectional student support. As I depart for a new career move, I want to leave my truth and inquiry in the annals of public record during an era of fake news. I also want to leave words behind because too many marginalized staff and faculty leave in ushered silence. Which leads me to question: How many faculty and staff of color have left or are leaving Tufts University this year? How many of us have left over the past few years? Where are we going? Why are we leaving? Is this aspect of life for Black and Brown bodies on the campus being surveilled as much as others?
I remember the phone call I received on a sunny day in Palo Alto, California offering me the role of Director of the Women’s Center. Leaving California I was asked, “Are you sure you want to move to Boston after living in Oakland? Isn’t Boston racist? Do you like snow?” Although I loved the Bay, the consistent weather was starting to feel like “Groundhog Day.” I reassured the skeptics that as someone born and raised in Boston and who started their career at Tufts in 2011, I knew what I was coming back home to.
However, I started questioning whether or not I belonged here on my first day at Tufts where I was told repeatedly that I had to use my legal name as my e-mail address. That was the default in our system, I was told. Clearly, I was not the default. Was this place and system ready for me? Eventually, I was able to change my e-mail to reflect my chosen name but first impressions speak volumes. Unfortunately, this experience is common for Transgender people nationally and I fear it may get worse. However, with a serious intentional effort, I believe no one has to go through this if we care to stop it and, if any campus in the country could do so, I believe Tufts can.
After a bumpy welcome, I got into an extreme home makeover of the Women’s Center which I refer to as “Queer Eying” the space. On May 21, 2017, The Tufts Daily announced my hiring with an article and photo of me which I liked. Unfortunately, not everyone liked it so much as the story received transphobic comments after its digital publication which led to The Tufts Daily disabling the comments section for the first time. I appreciated the fast action by student staff to alter their system’s defaults for me and they apologized for the hatred. I asked myself if I belonged here but I looked forward to Orientation as students always remind me why I do this work.
During Orientation, I met students and I was thrilled by their reactions to the Women’s Center. First-year Women of color took pictures of themselves next to artwork because it was the first time they had ever seen themselves reflected in an academic setting like this. I witnessed the power of representation and while I was happy we created a space which centered marginalized imagery, it was a tragedy for students to have gone this long without seeing themselves. I asked returning students where else on campus they could experience this. Other than the G5 centers, the list was thin and it wasn’t Alumnae Lounge. Orientation was full of wonderful memories and it’s also when I had my second experience on campus with law enforcement officers in three months. Given the campus’ freedom of expression policy, I agreed to be interviewed by The Observer alongside students of color who also had interactions with officers on campus. It seemed like we were all questioning our sense of belonging as a result of these interactions so early in the year.
Throughout the fall, students of all races and gender identities spent time together in the Women’s Center and we fostered an environment where students felt at home. Student interns created a new bi-weekly affinity space for people of color on campus entitled POC Circle which additionally made students feel like the center was a space for them where Women’s Centers often default to White Cis Heterosexual Women. In this era, it is more important than ever to support and create affinity spaces for targeted groups. I found myself explaining and defending this necessity more often than I anticipated and cared to do. Due to demand, POC Circle met weekly in the winter to support those who sought a healing space from trauma, misgendering and a lack of representation they experienced on campus and elsewhere. If students of color were experiencing this, was our faculty and staff, too? I found myself needing spaces to heal from similar things as I had never experienced them to this degree before.
Winter set in and Zora Neale Hurston spoke to me anew, as I began to feel most colored against this sharp white background. My gender expression and other modes of expression drew stares and scrutiny which made me feel further unwelcome, surveilled and policed. Coming from Oakland, one of the most diverse cities in the country, I felt out of place in Boston and on campus and I was more attuned to the racial hostility which permeates this area as spotlighted by The Boston Globe.
The Brookings Institution recently cited new census population projections showing the U.S. will become “minority white” in 2045. They confirmed the importance of racial minorities as the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth, countering an aging, slow-growing and soon to be declining white population. Are the systems at Tufts prepared for seismic changes to come? Has the default been examined? The students I have met at Tufts inspire me with their imagination, desire for change and passion for justice. Last week, I was moved to join them at their demonstration for dining staff rights outside of Ballou Hall as hail came down. “We see you. We love you,” they chanted in regards to a dining staff who are predominantly people of color. I know they also see and love their faculty and administrative staff of color too. As more of us leave, they will notice the exodus. While my time here concludes and I return to an environment with greater diversity, I have the utmost hope in students to continue moving us to where we need to be and I will be cheering them on from afar.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to better reflect the leadership of several Group of Six centers.