Inaugural pre-orientation program celebrates the Black student community
Incoming first-year students explore the Frederick Douglass exhibit at the Museum of African American History and the
African Meeting House with the SQUAD pre-orientation group. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University).
Students' Quest for Unity in the African Diaspora (SQUAD), a new
Tufts pre-orientation program, offered participants the chance to
learn about the community of Black students at Tufts, become
acquainted with the Tufts Africana Center and the resources it
provides, and celebrate African-diasporic traditions. The four-day,
student-led program is one of six pre-orientation programs that
provide incoming students an early introduction to campus, the
opportunity to make friends, meet student leaders and mentors, and
get acclimated to Tufts life before classes begin.
Last fall, Black and other minority students requested the creation
of a pre-orientation program through which Black students could
begin to strengthen their community, says junior Ashia Ezekiel, who
coordinated SQUAD along with junior Jukurious Davis.The Tufts
administration responded in a very positive way to students’ needs,
and helped make this a reality, says
Africana Center Director
Katrina Moore, who adds that the Office of the Dean of Student
Affairs funded SQUAD, eliminating any financial barrier for students
who wanted to participate.
The 21 inaugural SQUAD participants explored the Tufts and Greater
Boston communities with an eye towards African-diasporic history,
fostering a deeper relationship with its culture. Department of
History Lecturer Kerri Greenidge, Gill Fellowship Coordinator with
the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, led a tour of
Boston’s historically Black neighborhoods in Roxbury and the South
End with a specific focus on the Dudley Square area. Participants
visited local institutions such as the Museum of African American
History and African Meeting House, and viewed local artwork at the
National Center of Afro-American Artists.
Handy Dorceus, a first-year student in the mechanical engineering
program, was one of the first SQUAD participants. He first learned
about SQUAD while participating in the
Bridge to Engineering Success
program (BEST) over the summer. "The experiences that I gained from
the BEST program over the summer at Tufts helped me develop the
skill of taking initiative in terms of resources that are available
to me on campus," says Dorceus. "This skill has lead me to be a part
of the SQUAD program, where I met the people that have provided me
with a loving community."
(Starting third from left) Handy Dorceus, Seble Yigletu, and Yohanna Georgis at the Museum of African American History.
(Alonso Nichols/Tufts University).
The student coordinators chose "movement" as an umbrella theme for
SQUAD, focusing on dance as a creative outlet. "Dance as a form of
physical movement is a rich form of art and expression," explains
Ezekiel. "It’s not only an important form of expression for peoples
from all across the diaspora, but the ways we move our bodies unites
us and acts as a route through which we heal from
oppressive/repressive forces." SQUAD participants attended a film
screening for Rize, a documentary about South Central Los Angeles’s
street dance movement, followed by a discussion facilitated by Khary
Jones, a lecturer of drama and film.
The group also discussed the specific challenges Black
students face on campus, as well as intersections of
ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. They worked with
peer leaders to understand the roots of—and solutions
to—these struggles. SQUAD members also participated in a
program on racial trauma and self-care led by Dr. Jessica
Graham and Dr. Tahirah Abdullah, female psychologists of
color, and a workshop on sexuality and healthy relationships
facilitated by Tufts Sexual Misconduct Resource Specialist
Ezekiel, Davis, and their peers spent months planning SQUAD,
from determining the ideological foundation of the program, to
deciding the right way to facilitate those ideas in the group.
Moore, Bynoe, Programs and Special Projects
Coordinator Denise Phillips, and Assistant Athletic Director Branwen Smith-King also assisted in planning the program.
"It was a labor of love from the students that thought up the
idea and the staff at the Africana Center," says Christa
Ricker, assistant director for campus life, outdoor
education, and pre-orientation programs. "It’s not easy to launch a
program in a year, and their hard work throughout the academic
year and summer made it happen. SQUAD enrolled a number of
incoming students and designed an intentional and welcoming
space for them."
"SQUAD members felt that they became part of a family, one
which we reminded them would be extended to a wider campus
community, and one which has the support and full attention of many
people on this campus," Ezekiel says, adding that
they have all kept closely in touch during the first
semester to continue to support the group. Moore notes that
the Africana Center’s Peer Leaders will be providing support
to all first year students including the SQUAD participants
throughout the year to help them with their transition to
life on a college campus.
"One of the most valuable lessons that I've learned from SQUAD
was the importance of maintaining relationships with individuals
who you can maintain a community with," says Dorceus. "It will facilitate a nurturing environment that
allows for students to support each other while growing
"It has been more than exciting to speak to SQUAD participants
almost daily since the program," says Ezekiel. "They don’t believe they would have as wide of a network nor
the secure bonds with other students without SQUAD."