Op-Ed: The Asian American Center needs a director, not an external review

We write as a group of Asian and Asian American students concerned about the future of the Asian American Center (AAC) and other Group of Six centers. Shortly after this semester, Linell Yugawa will retire from her position as director of the AAC. Her departure follows the recent departures of Women’s Center Director K. Martinez and Latino Center Director Julián Cancino in April and December 2018, respectively.

No job listings for permanent director positions at the Latino, Women’s or Asian American Centers have been posted. Instead, Tufts University is only hiring for Interim Programming Administrator positions at the Latino and Women’s Centers — both of which are listed as a “limited appointment position” until Oct. 31, 2019. Currently, there is no posting for an Interim Programming Administrator position at the AAC. The precarious position of Interim Programming Administrator reflects the university’s lack of investment and support for the Group of Six.

The Office of the Dean of Student Affairs (DOSA) has often told students advocating for increased resources to the centers that a university-wide budget deficit makes their demands impossible. Nevertheless, DOSA plans to spend a starting cost of between $10,000 to $15,000 to hire external consultants to review the Group of Six’s operations. We were given this estimate during a meeting on Feb. 26 with Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Assistant Dean Raymond Ou. We clearly expressed our concern with this spending. Nevertheless, they told us this report would give them “evidence” to “deepen support” to the centers, despite having many strong testimonies from Tufts’ own students and center directors about what types of support the centers need.

We are concerned that this review is being used to undermine and potentially dismantle our center’s communities. It is an incredible oversight to go forward with this study without a full staff. In regards to the AAC specifically, upper-level administrators have intentionally decided not to fill Yugawa’s position while she is still here. This decision reflects ongoing administrative negligence and destroys any chance of a stable director transition following Yugawa’s departure. It is an act of blatant disrespect of Director Yugawa and the other directors and reflects a structural devaluation of the Group of Six director positions. The absence of directors at three of the five identity-based centers is a crisis — Tufts University’s failure to immediately fill these vacancies is a blatant disregard for racial justice on this campus.

We believe in preserving spaces for students of historically marginalized identities. We write urgently with a commitment not just to the centers as they exist now, but to the possibilities they hold for future generations of students.

We cannot let the university define our realities and possibilities. We do not need to be externally reviewed. Our centers are identity-based administrative offices that have often been unwelcoming to students; we understand from our own experiences that they have their faults. But job searches and external reviews conducted over the summer in the absence of directors and students cannot actually be about supporting students or addressing any of these historically continuous issues. Do not exploit the challenges that people of marginalized identities face in building community. This review is being conducted under the false pretense of deepening support while systematically devaluing our center’s spaces and the legacy of decades of students and community members who fought for the centers and believed in us. Our centers are born and maintained by a legacy of resistance. It is important that we remember and uplift those histories.

A letter to Dean McMahon, Dean Ou, Dean of Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of Engineering Jianmin Qu sent Thursday, March 7, following up on a previous meeting with Dean McMahon and Dean Ou, is shown below. We look forward to upcoming conversations.
Dear Dean McMahon and Dean Ou,

We wanted to follow up on our meeting last Tuesday, February 26. We also plan to make this letter accessible to the Tufts community early next week because we want our concerns to be part of a transparent and inclusive conversation.

Specifically, we are writing about our request for a public meeting during the week of March 25th, directly after Spring Break, to address questions around the upcoming review of the Centers and the vacancies in the director positions. We ask that this meeting be open to all Center communities and ideally include upper-level administrators such as Dean Glaser and Dean Qu. However, the meeting should not be postponed if they are unavailable within this time frame. We see this as crucial to maintaining transparency between the administration and students during this precarious moment for the Centers. For now, we are also wondering if you would share with us the starting cost of the review to the university.

We did not get a chance to talk to you about all the items on our agenda last week. We wanted to raise the third question again, regarding furniture and funding for the AAC. We are still wondering how DOSA will help make the now more accessible Asian American Center into a community space. If Tufts is not planning on investing financially in our community, how will DOSA help us secure alumni and donor funding?

Also, could you please clarify the role of an Interim Programming Administrator and how that role differs from a Staff Assistant role? Why do the posted interim positions for Latino Center and Women’s Center end in October? Will these contracts be extended at the end of October? Will an Interim Programming Administrator position be posted for the Asian American Center? If so, when? How does the timeline for the new AAC position line up with the hiring for other Centers’ leadership positions?

Lastly, we would like to reiterate that we strongly believe that a search for the Asian American Center Director position should begin immediately given Director Linell Yugawa’s upcoming retirement. A vacancy in the AAC would hugely affect the incoming class’ experience in the Peer Leader program and also create extra work for students. Intentionally choosing to cause  such a disruption undermines the importance of the Center Director position and the AAC community. We see these ongoing disruptions (especially given that the University just last year recognized that decades-long inaccessibility was an obstacle to building community in the AAC) as continually interfering with our ability to build a strong community through the Center.

If DOSA believes a review is necessary to “deepen support” for the Centers, there is no reason why the review cannot be conducted once the director positions are filled. We also want to point out that there have been several reviews in recent years, not to mention extensive student and community feedback on the Centers in recent TCU Senate resolutions and articles. We believe that the leaders of the Centers, as well as the student community, are crucial voices in such a review, more so than outside consultants. A review conducted in the intentional absence of staff and with disregard to our previously stated concerns sends the message that you do not value our voices and the labor we continuously put into sharing our concerns with you. Given that there have been ongoing budget cuts across the G6 Centers, and as we have been told repeatedly by administrators when advocating for increased support to the Centers, that the University is in a deficit, spending money on a review seems hypocritical.

In summary: (1) When can we expect a public community meeting regarding the status of the Centers? (2) How much will this upcoming review cost the university? (3) How does DOSA plan to support the AAC in acquiring furniture and funding for minor renovations? (4) What is DOSA’s plan for staffing the Centers? (5) We ask that you seriously consider what message you are sending to the community about the importance of the Centers in choosing to intentionally leave vacancies and interim staff positions while conducting an external review.

Thank you, and we are looking forward to your response.

Best,

Elizabeth Hom (E’22), elizabeth.hom@tufts.edu

Ethan Koh (A’22), ethan.koh@tufts.edu

Kelly Tan (A’22), kelly.tan@tufts.edu

Yumei Lin (A’22), yumei.lin@tufts.edu

Madeline Keipp (A‘22), madeline.keipp@tufts.edu

Tim Leong (A’22), timothy.leong@tufts.edu

Aadhya Shivakumar (A’22) aadhya.shivakumar@tufts.edu

Tina Guo (E’22), tina.guo@tufts.edu

Madeleine Oh (A’22), madeleine.oh@tufts.edu

Tu-Anh Nguyen (A’22), tu-anh.nguyen@tufts.edu

Jessie Lan, AAC Peer Leader (A’21) jessie.lan@tufts.edu

Sung-Min Kim (A’21), sung-min.kim@tufts.edu

Issay Matsumoto, AAC Peer Leader (A’21), issay.matsumoto@tufts.edu

Ana Sofia Amieva-Wang (A’19), ana.amieva_wang@tufts.edu

Jules Yun (A’19), julia.yun@tufts.edu

Celeste Teng (A’19), celeste.teng@tufts.edu

Wilson Wong (A’19), wilson.wong@tufts.edu

Kira Lauring (A’20), kira.lauring@tufts.edu

Ellie Locke (A’22), elizabeth.locke@tufts.edu

Nora Li, AAC Peer Leader (A’21), nora.li@tufts.edu

Richard Nakatsuka (A’22), richard.nakatsuka@tufts.edu

Catherine Kaler (A’22) catherine.kaler@tufts.edu

Jonathan Yao (A’20), jonathan.yao@tufts.edu

Yunzhu Pan (A’22), yunzhu.pan@tufts.edu

Amanda Yuan, AAC Peer Leader (A’21), Amanda.Yuan594727@tufts.edu

Justine Marie Aquino, AAC Peer Leader Intern (A’19), justine_marie.aquino@tufts.edu

Maria Fong, (A’21), maria.fong@tufts.edu

Emma Ishida (A’20) emma.ishida@tufts.edu

Anna Yuen, AAC Peer Leader (A’21) anna.yuen@tufts.edu

Martin Gao (A’20) martin.gao@tufts.edu 


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