Field Visit: Tufts Women's Center
I visited the Tuft’s Women’s Center on a sunny Thursday morning. It was my first time on the Tufts campus and the quiet Medford calm was a welcome break from the constant noise and bustle of Harvard Square.
The first thing I noticed was the beautiful, white, two-floor, above-ground building I was looking at. Looking at the standalone space that the Tuft’s Women’s Center had, I thought about the challenges that the Harvard College Women’s Center faces with regards to its space in the basement- constantly needing to make sure events are booked and scheduled carefully so that nothing overlaps within the space, running out of sitting room at Let’s Talk events, being unable to use any lounge space while events or classes are occurring in the kitchen because the spaces are connected. But the Tuft’s Women’s Center, too, began in a basement space, taking over its own space at 55 Talbot in the fall of 2000.
For this field visit, I conducted an interview with a student intern from Tufts Women’s Center, who will remain unnamed for confidentiality. The following questions were used to guide questions. Observations and photographs were collected on site as well.
1. What are some challenges the Tufts Women’s Center has encountered?
2. What are some ways the Center has approached these challenges?
3. What are some challenges you have encountered as a student working in this space?
4. Why did you choose to work here?
5. How do you perceive your role at the Tufts Women’s Center?
6. What would you change, if anything, about the center?
7. Do you feel like the university has supported the women’s center? In what ways?
8. What do you think the role of the women’s center is on campus?
9. What do students generally see the center as?
10. How do you view your relationships to administrators who work in the Center? Outside the Center?
11. Do you think the center is visible on campus? In what ways / what do you think contributes?
12. What aspects of the physical space do you think is important to the women’s center?
13. How do you think the women’s center builds community?
14. What are some changes/impact that the women’s center has made on campus? What do you think about it?
The Tufts Women’s Center, much like the Harvard College Women’s Center, is a space where students gather to meet each other, relax, attend events on important gender and social justice topics, and simply coexist. The space is filled with comfortable furniture that promotes a warm, collaborative atmosphere, with ample couch space and a kitchen. Artwork made by students as well as collected through the years decorates the walls in color and reflects the involved nature that students play in the Center.
“This center has always been really owned by the students, in a really cool way.”
- Student Intern, Tufts Women's Center
The Tuft’s Women’s Center has the advantage for visibility in being located very centrally on campus. Though there is still a portion of campus that has not been inside the Center or may not utilize it, the student intern thinks that the people who care about feminism/social justice know about and utilize the women’s center.
“We have a freestanding structure and a sign on the front that says Women’s Center, so in that sense we’re pretty visible. But a lot of people come in as juniors and seniors, even if they are people who care about the work that we’re doing, and say ‘Yeah, I’ve never been in the women’s center before!’ But I think people, especially people who are involved in activism, generally know about the Women’s Center.”
One of the challenges that the Tuft’s Women’s Center faces is the difficulty of maintaining the Center throughout transitions in leadership. The student intern noted that the lack of administrative responsibility in the hiring process for the Tuft’s Women’s Center director, following the vacancy of the director position, made the work of the Women’s Center fall on staff and students.
The previous director, who had been at the center for 8 years, had been taking on the burden of a lot of work at the campus and administrative level, and eventually took a position elsewhere.
For the student intern, the administrative burden and expectations put on the previous director was disheartening:
The lack of accountability on the part of the administration with regards to finding new leadership for the Women's Center was also a burden for the Center.
“It was hard for students to see a mentor figure being treated that way by the institution.”
In this way, the administration actively works against students. The burden falls on students and staff alike to maintain the direction and daily function of the women’s center, as well as to pass down historical knowledge and experience about how to run the center. The student intern talked about the challenge of how to pass down her knowledge about running the center to younger interns, as they are about to experience yet another transition of leadership.
“When summer happened, the students left campus, and there was no one really to keep the administration accountable for getting started with the hiring process sooner, and so it got delayed a lot… When we got back to campus and started our peer leader program, orientation, we still didn’t have a full time director, and the graduate student assistant serving as interim director was doing a full time job and not getting paid for a full time job, and was a Ph.D. candidate at the time.”
“We’re trying to figure out, the older interns, how to pass on this knowledge of how to keep the center running, and how to ask the administration for what you want, and do this transition, while we’re also transitioning out.”
Another challenge is that Tuft’s Women’s Center, while it is becoming more intersectional and complex in content, is working to overcome its reputation on campus as the “White Women’s Center,” due to the fact that it was historically begun by white women, and the fact that there exist the other centers of the G6 where women of color more historically were present in, like the Africana Center, Asian American Center, Latino Center.
“For a lot of women of color who are interested in talking about the center, their perception of the Tuft’s Women’s Center is still as the ‘White Women’s Center.’”
The student intern emphasizes the importance of collaboration between different diversity centers in accomplishing their work.
“In asking for things from administrators, it’s been helpful to have students from different centers come together and be like, what do we need, and how do we get this? But it’s definitely hard, and it’s definitely something we’re trying to push for.”