Op-Ed: University should follow TCU Senate, increase Group of 7 funding

Our identity-based resource centers are struggling. As students seek to make sense of chronic underfunding, prolonged vacancies in center directorships and understaffing for centers that support some of the most vulnerable communities on campus, it is imperative that the highest levels of administration at Tufts commit to fully funding and staffing our identity-based resource centers to enable their crucial work.

As the centers grapple with rapid turnover rates, understaffing and underfunding, there have been rumors that the university is questioning the necessity of the centers altogether. Any such questioning is severely misguided. To understand the commitment that students have to the centers and their communities, one needn’t look further than community members who have dedicated hours of emotionally intensive labor to strengthen community within their centers.

Sylvester Bracey, a junior serving as the Africana community senator on the Tufts Community Union (TCU), described the importance of the Africana Center to him when he arrived on campus as a first-year and into today.

“I needed to be able to walk into a place full of smiling black faces … [The Africana Center has been] one place you know you can let your guard down,” Bracey said. “We have to make Tufts into a space we want to be in. Community makes getting through this place possible for me.” 

Carolina Olea Lezama, a first-year actively involved with the Latino Center, spoke to why she cares about and invests in the center and her community.

“The Latinx Center has become a home away from home, for me. After the departure of the director, I was able to hold a community event to ensure that the community could come together and have a discussion on our needs,” Olea Lezama said. “We need space where we celebrate our identities and make it clear that the Latinx community exists at Tufts and is strong, united, and resilient.”

Shannon Lee, a junior involved in the successful campaign to open up the Asian American Center at the Start House, talked about the need for community discussion and referenced the painful history behind the center’s creation.

“The center provides a much-needed resource for Asian American students to explore critical questions about their identities,” Lee said. “When we think about the historical events leading up the creation of the Asian American center, and all the centers, its importance is even more evident.”

Students have made it clear, both through words and tireless activism, that these centers are critical to the well-being of their specific communities and the Tufts community as a whole. Given the importance of the centers to students, it is essential that Tufts fully fund them.

Currently, the Women’s Center directorship and the Latino Center directorship sit vacant, in addition to the upcoming retirement of Asian American Center Director Linell Yugawa. LGBT Center Director Hope Freeman has graciously stepped up to serve as interim Women’s Center director, working simultaneously in two directorship roles. Beyond the vacancies in the centers’ top positions, none of the center directors benefit from the assistance of an associate director, unlike at Tufts’ peer institutions like the University of Pennsylvania.

Without directors for the centers, an undue burden is shifted onto students, and centers cannot fully support the student populations which depend on them. Without associate directors, valuable time of current directors is taken by administrative work that they might otherwise have additional help in completing at peer institutions. Beyond the lack of funding for crucial center staff roles, the failure to fund new furniture for the recently renovated Asian American Center further indicates the need for more resources. Students deserve to rely on fully staffed, furnished and funded centers to facilitate dialogues around identity, realize programming ideas and build community.

Persistent underfunding at the centers is why I am proposing an additional $7,000 to the centers in the upcoming TCU Senate budget. Under this plan, $1,000 would go to each of the seven communities represented by TCU Community Senators for student-facing programming. This money would offset student programming costs, freeing up funding within center budgets, and support initiatives like community town halls, dinners, co-sponsoring student-driven speaker events and the Counseling and Mental Health Service/LGBT Center fund for non-medical needs for transgender students.

While this allocation is modest, it would affirm the commitment of TCU Senate and the student body to the centers in a concrete way. This funding comes at a time when the centers need it most. The university must do its duty and adequately fund the centers so that students do not need to divert funding toward essential organs that the university itself should already be supporting.

Students, staff, activists and the TCU Senate remain committed to their centers. It is time for the university to reestablish its commitment to the center and provide them with the monetary resources they need and deserve in order to serve the needs of the student body and live up to its stated commitment to diversity.