A New Squad
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).
by Dana Guth, '17
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 Nandi Bynoe.
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 individually."
"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."