Building a Campus Home
For the CARE Center’s 5th Anniversary, Toluwani Roberts ’22 invited a group of five former and current fellows—Alejandra Vazquez Baur ’17, Isaiah Tulanda ’20, Zach Taylor ’22, Nisha Singh ’23, and Lauren Spencer ’23—to reflect about their work at the center, the growth they’ve witnessed at CARE since its founding, and their own personal transformation as a result.
In Toluwani’s words: “I was delighted to once again curate space for people to reminisce and reflect, especially on a place that has shaped our identities during our time at CMC.” The following essay, which appeared originally in the Fall 2021 CMC Magazine, is her tribute to CARE’s student-led leadership vision and commitment to collaboration.
Step into my shoes for a moment and imagine you are walking into the CARE Center, a quiet and welcoming space tucked away in the upper level of Heggblade Center. You tap your student ID card on the scanner—*beep*—and are greeted by the smell of warm tacos and cinammon-y horchata. The friendly CARE Fellow sitting at the front desk welcomes you past the bright, festive colors on the walls, and you move towards the chatter.
Guadalupe Valente ’21, a Mexican native from Los Angeles, is hosting an event on the history of Día de Los Muertos and how it is celebrated today. In addition to a presentation and discussion, the group delights in decorating sugar candy skulls, which represent a departed soul.
I hope, with this brief description, you are starting to see why the CARE Center is so special to CMC students.
Every anniversary, as we know, is an opportunity to reflect on the past and imagine an even better future. The memories and thoughts that the six of us shared during our Zoom conversation quickly affirmed that the CARE Center made—and still makes—a positive difference in our lives.
Lauren, Zach, and Nisha spoke fondly of the guidance and mentorship they received from upperclassmen when they visited CMC’s campus as prospective students and, shortly after, moved in to begin their college journeys. In fact, it was Isaiah who gave Zach a tour of CARE during an overnight visit. And Zach found himself at the center again as a freshman when Andrea Amaya ’20—his First-Year Guide and a CARE Fellow—brought him there after their WOA trip.
Lauren named CARE as an influential factor in her decision to attend CMC. During Preview weekend, hosted by the Office of Admission, she attended CARE’s informational presentation for prospective students, facilitated that day by Sobé Uwajeh ’22. Lauren thought that it’d be cool to eventually work there, and jumped on the application when the opportunity arose her freshman year.
One of Nisha’s earliest memories of CARE was attending Zach’s event on Environmental Justice. She shared with the group that the event “really embodied a lot of things that I love about the CARE Center, which is the ability to learn from your peers both in the interpersonal and academic senses. And it happens in such an informal way that you don’t even realize how much you’re learning and how much you’re growing.” Her first year on campus was also made easier by the mentorship of young women of color whom she met at CARE. She named both Janise Waites ’22 and me (thanks, Nisha!), the CARE Student Leads at the time, as sources of support. As a result of the influence of CARE, she embedded herself in other spheres of student leadership, working as a FYG, a member of the Claremont International Relations Society Executive Board, ASCMC Presidential Advisor, and—just as Janise and I had—CARE Student Lead.
Indeed, the CARE Center would not exist without the leadership and labor of students. As part of a fellow project, Lauren has been working on CARE’s five-year history this semester, and has enjoyed learning how the center came to be. For many of us, CARE has always been an essential part of our CMC experience.
“I didn’t realize how new the CARE Center was when I got there. I just figured it was there and that was it,” she said. “For it to only be the fifth year is really insane to think about.”
In 2016, our campus and our nation struggled with the violent reality of systemic anti-Blackness, sparked by the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Marginalized students—as part of the national movement on college campuses for Black lives and in the CMC spirit of free speech—spoke out about their personal and collective struggles on campus and in this country. Alejandra reflected on these efforts—which continue to be relevant as we witness movements for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police violence; it was a teaching moment for all of us in the Zoom room.
“There were a lot of protests on campus that semester—it was my sophomore year fall—and conversations were happening about police brutality against Black and Brown bodies. People were starting to make them more public, rather than in small rooms with small amounts of people,” she said. Many of these student protestors and advocates formed CMCers of Color, which became an official organization the next semester, in 2017. They created a range of demands for the administration, but their central goal was a multicultural center on CMC’s campus.
It is important to candidly talk about this history, especially because “there are some students who I know need so much more recognition—because without that effort, we wouldn’t have the CARE Center,” Alejandra said. CARE, as a space built for students of all demographics and backgrounds to share their voices, was an important step forward for CMC. In 2016, the center opened with Vince Greer as its inaugural director and associate dean of diversity and inclusion. Some 75 CARE Fellows and countless programs, conversations, and meals later, students continue to shape it into a real home on campus.
“Much like any moment in history where good things happen because people put themselves at risk to make those things happen, there were a lot of people at CMC who had to go through a lot of pain,” Alejandra recalled. “It was a really, really difficult time at CMC to make CARE happen, and it’s really beautiful to see what it’s become. Hearing what you guys are talking about is so cool. I’m really grateful that I got a year of it.”
In this spirit of student initiative and collective action, we transitioned into sharing our visions for the CARE Center in the near and distant future. Isaiah would like to see more faculty in the space engaging with fellow events and conversations on students’ lived experiences, per the wise saying that “you’re never too old to learn something new.” Following the shared nature of nearly everyone’s introduction to CARE, Zach said that he sees the center playing a more active role in student orientation, particularly with increased fellow participation and DEI workshops. Piggy-backing off Isaiah’s point, Zach also suggested more faculty direct their students to the CARE Center as a social, emotional, and academic resource; it could be as simple as including CARE in their syllabus, Nisha added.
“CARE should be a space where people start that journey of committing to anti-racism, and committing to understanding marginalized identities on this campus, which I hope will be reflected more in the years to come,” she said.
It was at this point in the conversation that our Zoom really felt like a CARE event—a space of intentional production and intellectual exchange. And we all made or deepened our personal connections with one another in the hour we had.
The students’ relationship with the CARE Center is reciprocal; it shapes them as much as they shape it. Alejandra, who worked in education after graduating, helped to establish a Latinx club at her high school and actively elevated the needs, voices, and suggestions of students to the administration. She learned from Vince and Nyree Gray, CMC’s associate vice president for diversity and inclusion, how to act as that conduit. Alejandra keeps that value central in her work as a public advocate in New York City, empowering low-income queer POC voices.
Isaiah, in conversation with his peers, friends, and other loved ones, reminds them and himself to “acknowledge intention and center impact. I feel like that is the root of human connection and communication.” Lauren’s work at CARE to bridge art and activism—her first event was Blackness in Poetry—pushed her to become more involved with artists in her home of San Francisco, and shift her career goals as a result. Similarly, Nisha wants to emphasize art in student advocacy on campus. She is restructuring one of the CARE Fellow Committees to focus on the E for Expression, directing more resources and attention to the creative aspects of CARE and the artistic talents of students.
As you can see, five years in, CARE is evolving right before our eyes.
Together, we hope the CARE Center will continue to receive the highest respect from CMC leadership and the larger alumni community. “Having our own level of autonomy and having more physical space to hold students,” as stated by Isaiah, are essential to CARE’s growth. We also hope to see 10, 20, 30, even 75 years of CARE in the future, or as Nisha put it so eloquently:
When we look back on “75 years of responsible leadership, CARE is maybe one of the most exemplary examples of leadership on this campus, one that we should all be really proud of. This is the one space that is completely student oriented. And that’s such a special thing—to be able to give students that agency and that opportunity.”
Toluwani Roberts ’22 is an aspiring “scholar-activist-healer” from Lagos, Nigeria and New York City. She majors in Africana Studies, currently works as a writing consultant at the Center for Writing and Public Discourse, and was previously a CARE Fellow and Student Lead. Toluwani is also a Mellon Mays Fellow and a Beinecke scholar. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry, playing guitar, and cuddling her cat.