Tufts needs a primer in sustainability

The Tufts University Office of the President website declares that Tufts “has long been a pioneer in campus sustainability,” citing its development of the Talloires Declaration in 1990. A common definition of sustainability is a type of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future, from environmental, social and economic perspectives.

The more I learn about Tufts, the more I realize Tufts is failing at all aspects of sustainability. I’ve never understood how an institution that invests over $70 million in fossil fuels in 2015 — an amount calculated by Tufts Climate Action (then Tufts Divest) in the fall of 2012 after learning from members of the Board of Trustees that Tufts invests about five percent of its endowment in fossil fuels — could call itself sustainable. But lately I’m realizing that Tufts’ relentless growth and drive for short-term profit is just as unsustainable as its investment in one of the most destructive industries on earth.

As Edward Beuchert, a Somerville resident and co-founder of the West Somerville Neighborhood Association, noted in a recent Daily op-ed, Tufts has only built two new dormitories since 1985 — South Hall and Sophia Gordon Hall — which offer only 493 beds, even though enrollment has increased by about 1,000 students. Consequently, more students are forced to move off campus, which gentrifies the surrounding neighborhoods, pushing out middle- or lower-income families who once lived here. This trend also leads to students living in overcrowded and overpriced housing.

“Tufts students realize they’re getting ripped off and paying outrageous rents for substandard housing, but they’re forced into dealing with exploitative slumlords by the administration’s decision to admit ever-increasing numbers of students,” Beuchert wrote.

Additionally, Tufts’ expansion is hurting some of its most vulnerable students. In an op-ed published in March, Sam Zollman (LA ’15) criticized Tufts’ refusal to address the rapidly increasing rents for off-campus houses. He points out that rent spikes hurt low-income students the most, as students dependent on large amounts of financial aid can’t afford to spend $800/month (or more) on off-campus rent. Multiple friends of mine face this problem, and it fragments the Tufts community. How can we form a strong, socioeconomically diverse community if upperclassmen relying on financial aid are literally segregated from the majority of juniors and seniors who move off campus, either by choice or by necessity?

At the same time, Tufts privileges Greek Life over more inclusive methods of community-building. Greek Life isn’t always welcoming or accessible to low-income students, students of color and queer students. Some students don’t want to participate in the drinking culture Greek Life comes with, or prefer other social outlets. The expansion of Greek Life (from 13 percent when I arrived at Tufts in fall 2013 to 24 percent today) certainly could mean more housing and community-building options, but only for students at Tufts involved in Greek Life — further dividing the community.

Lastly, let’s not forget Tufts’ plans for “reorganization” of its janitors, which the administration greenwashes as a more “sustainable” move. It seems that Tufts values higher-income students over lower-income students, expansion and profit over the lives of the surrounding communities, “efficiency” over the lives of its janitors and adjunct professors and short-term profit over long-term climate justice. And these aren’t even the only examples.

As Tufts celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Talloires Declaration, it’s time it asked itself whether it’s practicing what it preaches.


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