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Voices Vying for Change

Campus | October 29, 2012

What would a perfect Tufts look like? There are many passionate individuals in activist and cultural groups on campus, each of which identifies with different struggles. The Observer spoke to student representatives from five groups on campus to determine what they agreed on and where they differed: the Women’s Center, the Pan African Alliance, the Queer-Straight Alliance, the Association of Latin American Students, and Students for Justice in Palestine. We wanted to know which issues incite action and what each respective group deems critical. Although these groups might appear to have little in common with each other, their responses revealed some surprising similarities.

The mission of the Women’s Center is to advance the personal and intellectual growth of all students, with a particular focus on women. The center looks to “educate the greater Tufts community—students in particular—about men’s violence against women, the current status of women, and gender identity and expression at Tufts and beyond.” The Women’s Center also works to advocate and strengthen the Women’s Studies program at Tufts.

Senior Amy Wipfler is a staff member at the Women’s Center. She explained what the center would like to see in an ideal Tufts. Some immediate changes that she would like to see include “gender-neutral bathrooms in every building and on every floor of residential halls at Tufts… more women in leadership positions both within departments and the administration… preferred gender pronouns to be asked of people during introductions at every club meeting and in every classroom, and for the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program to receive enough funding to conduct research and hire faculty.” Wipfler said that “Tufts needs to take an active stance against rape culture to prevent female-identified and gender non-conforming people from feeling marginalized on this campus. We need to take responsibility for the culture we live in and work actively to change it.”

The Pan African Alliance’s view of a perfect Tufts is similar to that of the Women’s Center in that they want to advocate acknowledgement and integration of their perspective inside and outside the classroom, but with a focus on students of color as opposed to women. They would like a strong program of Africana Studies as well as racial equity in all aspects of life, both on and off campus. One specific change they would like is for the Africana Studies program to be more promoted by the university. The Pan African Alliance Twitter posed the question: “@TuftsUniversity when will the #AfricanaStudies courses and new hires-taught courses [be] available via SIS? [How about sending a] University-wide email? #reeducation”

The Pan African Alliance is the overarching name of the many organizations that advocate for concerns of students of color. Their mission is to promote community and a sense of identity among members of the black community, and teach others about the black experience. The Pan-African Alliance works to voice the concerns of black students to both the university administration and students. The Alliance hosts various social, educational, and cultural events at Tufts to aid in meeting these ends.

Max Tanguay-Colucci, a sophomore, is the president of Tufts’ Queer Straight Alliance (QSA). Tanguay-Colucci described the QSA primarily as a forum for dialogue, discussion, and support at Tufts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students and their allies. The QSA covers issues of sexual orientation, gender identification, and diversity. The QSA wishes to educate the student population and have its issues discussed, much like the Women’s Center and Pan African Alliance, but it doesn’t have an in-the-classroom component. “The Queer Straight Alliance is needed at Tufts in order to continue the discussion of LGBTQ issues on and beyond campus,” explained Tanguay-Colucci. “Too often I forget that the environment at Tufts is not the environment elsewhere. Moreover, as students at a seemingly progressive university, we often fail to recognize evidence of damaging prejudice and unchecked privilege that continues to exist both within and outside of the LGBTQ community.”

The main change Tanguay-Colucci would like to see on campus is more dialogue, acceptance, and awareness: “An ideal Tufts is a place where all students feel safe to exist—to know that all of their interests, passions, and attractions are valid and that each and every aspect of self is significant… [But] the struggle for self is a part of life. In order to combat strife, all of us can work harder to make our campus a safer place where mental health and self-awareness is accepted as priority number one.”

A discussion-based group like QSA, the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) works on creating a dialogue, but focuses more on creating community. Sophomore Gabriel Lara is the president. Lara explained that, “The overall mission is to bring together the Latino community within Tufts and to provide a space for intellectual discourse outside the classroom—a place to be able to speak about specific issues. Additionally, we want to reach out to the Tufts community… and get rid of some stereotypes that we all know are there.” Lara spoke at length about unifying not only the Latino community, but also the Tufts community as a whole. “ALAS is needed for the same reason the Women’s Center is needed, why the Africana Center, the LGBT Center are needed—they’re all places where students can go to connect. ALAS is more than just a place for Latino students to hang; it is there if anyone is interested in the culture, to provide an opportunity to learn about it.”

Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a relatively new group on campus—only three years old. Munir Atalla, a sophomore, stated that SJP works to “offer an alternative narrative and enhance the discourse on campus through intellectual activism and direct action.” The focus is not only on promoting justice for those living in Palestine, but also promoting justice everywhere through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “In the short time we have existed, we have completely shifted the campus discourse from a very narrow right-wing Zionist-dominated paradigm where any criticism of Israel was seen as anti-Semitism (a ridiculous allegation as a large portion of our membership of our membership is Jewish) to a healthy on-campus debate where light has been shed on the oppression faced by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state.“

Like the other student groups, SJP would like a perfect Tufts to be more tolerant and aware of the issues effecting their members. “Ideally, Tufts students would have a greater awareness of the political reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine, and through direct action push our administration to make changes that reflect the high social responsibility at Tufts, things that we feel are in line with active citizenship so often referred to on the hill,” explained Atalla.

It may seem surprising to most students that the most common goal of these student groups is acceptance and understanding, as Tufts is typically credited with embracing any student—regardless of background, gender, or sexual orientation. But the people involved in these struggles share a vision for a better campus. Each group would like their struggle to be better acknowledged and addressed. Although each group addresses inequality from a different point of entry, their vision of a more liberated Tufts is the same—one that we can all stand behind.