The pre-orientation team announced on June 3 that all Tufts pre-orientation programs will be virtual and free of cost to incoming students, citing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the health and safety challenges posed by the virus.
Christa Ricker, associate director for Campus Life, announced the decision in a series of emails sent to incoming first-year and transfer students, and leaders of each pre-orientation program.
Ricker explained that all eight programs rely on community partnerships with organizations in the greater Boston area and New England, but that the pandemic has made these partnerships unclear.
“At this point in time, there are too many unknowns regarding those partnerships to move forward with in-person Pre-Orientation,” she said in an email announcement.
Ricker also indicated that practicing social distancing measures would have been difficult if these programs were held in-person.
“Every program spends some amount of time off campus, whether that be through daily service with FOCUS, or fun excursions with FIT,” Ricker wrote in an email to the Daily. “Navigating transportation was another large obstacle, as maintaining social distancing and safety is harder to achieve on buses and public transportation.”
The decision to move pre-orientation to a virtual experience accompanied the decision to make it free of cost to all incoming students.
“We felt that incoming students this year need the opportunity to connect more than ever and anything we could do to remove barriers for that was important,” Ricker said.
However, because pre-orientation will be free, it may create costs for the university, according to Ricker.
“The move to virtual does not mean that Pre-O will not incur costs but that we will navigate that as a university,” she said.
Despite pre-orientation being made virtual, more students registered for programming this year than last year. In 2019, there were 1,019 registrants, and this year, the number of registrants increased to 1,133, according to Ricker.
“The rates over the course of the registration period were slower to start than past years, but had a notable jump in the week following the announcement to move to virtual,” she said.
Some leaders of pre-orientation programs shared their ideas for virtual programming with the Daily.
Kat Reid, head leader of the Fitness and Individual Development at Tufts (FIT) program, explained that FIT coordinators will adapt all programming to an online format.
Because FIT generally involves activities that would not be possible virtually, such as mini-golfing, kayaking, sailing and hiking, alternative, online activities have been created for participating students.
“We are going to offer virtual yoga, hip-hop dance classes, e-games and some other virtual forms of activities we have offered during ‘Jumbo workouts’ in the past,” Reid, a rising senior, wrote in an email to the Daily.
Reid added that discussions on mental health will also be included in FIT’s virtual programming.
“[We] believe that [mental health] is just as important as physical health, and it is an especially important topic as first-years embark on a new chapter of their life in the midst of a tumultuous era for our world,” Reid said.
The First-Year Orientation CommUnity Service (FOCUS) pre-orientation program will also offer activities in a virtual format, according to FOCUS coordinator Shannon Cloherty.
“Our transition to a virtual program will include virtual service opportunities, workshops, activities to introduce our participants to Tufts, and activities to facilitate bonding between participants,” Cloherty, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily.
In previous years, pre-orientation staff and participants have been allowed to move into on-campus housing prior to official move-in dates.
However, in the guide released by the university outlining its plans for the fall 2020 semester, the university said that early move in will not be permitted.
Ricker recognized that early move in is no longer necessary for pre-orientation staff and participants now that programming will be virtual.
“Because we have moved to virtual, the need to be on campus earlier than any other student is removed,” Ricker said.
The pre-orientation team has not yet announced official dates of when the programs will run.
Ricker believes that the pre-orientation team will overcome the challenges presented by making programming virtual and fulfill the objectives of pre-orientation.
“We are confident that the primary goals of Pre-Orientation remain achievable,” Ricker said.