Last Wednesday Evergreen students, staff, faculty and alumni gathered in the Longhouse Cultural Center for a panel discussion reflecting on 50 years of cultural resilience and academic persistence at First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services (FPMAS).
Facilitated by First Peoples Interim Director Kandi Bauman, panel speakers included former Evergreen dean (and current special advisor to the president) Stone Thomas, alumni Tomas Ybarra and Elena Perez, and former First Peoples directors April West-Baker, Eugene Fujimoto, Holly Joseph, and Ricardo Leyva-Puebla.
Panelists reflected on the community effort required to establish First Peoples. Tomas Ybarra enrolled at Evergreen in 1973 and was one of the student organizers who lobbied for the creation of what would become FPMAS. “We challenged administrators to recognize the reality, that we needed to help students of color,” shared Ybarra, who is now the VP of Instruction at Yakima Valley College, told attendees.
First Peoples has served as a campus cornerstone by facilitating workshops on culture, academically advising students of color, and helping students strategically plan for their futures.
Among the attendees was Joye Hardiman, an Evergreen faculty member, former director of Evergreen Tacoma, and interim director of the Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education. Hardiman reminisced on the early days of First Peoples’ community. “We put money in a hat, we fed each other, and we discussed fixing the institution,” she said.
The students of FPMAS would get together often to discuss and debate controversial issues on culture and race. This included a passionate debate in 1978 on whether the center should be named the ‘Third World Coalition’ or ‘First Peoples’.
There were a few reasons why the name ‘First Peoples’ was chosen, but the primary reason, remembered former student organizer Elena Perez, was “[at that time] every student of color was first-generation, there was not one person of color who had parents who attended college, so we were the first people.”
First Peoples has done a lot of evolving, from the ‘Third World Coalition’ to ‘First Peoples Coalition,’ eventually becoming First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. The mission of the center has evolved from focusing specifically on multicultural advocacy to a wider mission that includes academic and career advising of multicultural students.
First Peoples also now supports students along the gender and sexuality spectra with identities in the LGBTQ+ community. It houses both the Trans & Queer Center and the Unity Lounge. It also runs a pre-orientation program called Multicultural Scholars Program, providing incoming first-year students with a week-long experience to earn credit while honoring their culture and finding their community at Evergreen.
First Peoples’ programs and services have evolved and expanded, but panelist agreed that the benefits and goals remained consistent. They also agreed that the work of First Peoples is as important as ever, and on the need to support underrepresented students for many years to come.
For more information about First People’s Multicultural Advising Services visit https://www.evergreen.edu/multicultural.