Navigating Fall Break: Students weigh whether to stay on campus, university shares decision-making process

President's Lawn is pictured on Oct. 18. Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily

Since the pandemic hit the United States in March, this has been an unprecedented year. Of course, Thanksgiving is no exception. With cases rising across the country, health professionals are urging people to forgo large family gatherings.

For many Tufts students, this news doesn’t change much. In late September, the student body was informed that it had two choices for the break: go home and complete the semester remotely or stay and finish the semester on campus. This was a difficult decision for many students to make as it marks either a holiday away from home or almost a full month away from what is normally spent on campus.

Nick Januario, a sophomore living in a 10-person suite in Haskell Hall, discussed his decision to stay on campus for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

“[The] majority of my suite is planning on staying for Thanksgiving weekend. Many of us live far away from school and would rather finish out the last days of the semester with friends before returning home,” Januario said. 

As typical Thanksgiving meals are home cooked, there are a few obstacles in the way of that for some Tufts students. One of these is that many dorms or suites, including Haskell, have communal kitchens. 

“Our plan is to order food through Tufts’ Thanksgiving meal program and set up all the food in the common room to eat family style. Some parents who live nearby may even bring some extra home-cooked food for us to enjoy,” Januario said. 

As for the rest of the break, Januario hopes to spend it relaxing with his friends. When asked about Tufts’ Thanksgiving plans, Januario stated his support. 

“Tufts’ meal plan for Thanksgiving break is a thoughtful solution that both ensures the dining workers get a well-deserved holiday and students are provided with quality food for Thanksgiving Day,” Januario said. “Outsourcing to local restaurants that would appreciate the business in times of economic hardship is a plan that the entire Tufts/Medford/Somerville community can benefit from.” 

Other students have decided to depart before the holiday, including sophomore Maya Friedson. For Friedson, the difficulty of being away from family on a holiday was not desirable.

“Thanksgiving has historically been a time where my whole family gathers … While this year it seems like we will have to forgo the big family event, I do have elderly grandparents who we plan to see over the holidays, and ultimately, they are why I’m choosing to leave campus,” Friedson said. 

This decision means that Friedson will complete the semester remotely from her home in New York City. For her, the possibility of seeing her grandparents over the break makes the time at home worthwhile, even with remote schooling. 

“In all honesty, I’m not that nervous about having to finish up the semester at home,” Friedson said. “In the days leading up to my departure, I am doing all that I can do to set myself up for success, including working a little ahead in some of my classes. I’m hoping that if I do my best to define my home space from my work space, it won’t be that bad.”

Tufts has contracted out to restaurants in the Medford and Somerville communities for Thanksgiving meals as a way of supporting local businesses and allowing the dining workers a much needed, and deserved, respite. Camille Lizarríbar, dean of student affairs and chief student affairs officer for the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, detailed the importance of giving students who choose to stay on campus some holiday spirit.

“Because the university has asked students to remain on campus throughout the Thanksgiving break, there was a general consensus among several offices that we should offer the holiday dining program as a way to provide students with food options that would be different than usual, support our local restaurants, and give as many dining service employees time off on and around the holiday as possible,” Lizarríbar wrote in an email to the Daily.

In the past, dining halls have been closed over long holiday breaks, such as Thanksgiving and winter break. This year, however, with many students remaining, the university had to get creative to provide food to all students, regardless of meal plan status. 

“We wanted to be sure food security was not a concern over this holiday, especially on Thanksgiving Day, when many restaurants and markets are normally closed, making it particularly hard to access food. We wanted students to be able to take a break from what has been a very different and often stressful semester and to enjoy the holiday without concerns about cost,” Lizarríbar said. 

Another piece of the puzzle is deciding which restaurants to hire for the job. Patti Klos, director of dining and business services, outlined the process of choosing the restaurants to feed the students who choose to remain on campus. 

“Logistically, it’s very complicated to bring in such a large number of meals, so we’ve turned to three restaurants, 2 in Medford and 1 in Somerville, for the lunches. We’re still working out the details for the dinners, and hope to offer students more variety on Friday and Saturday night,” Klos wrote in an email to the Daily. 

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) has more flexibility than Tufts’ Medford campus due to size and location. Laura DaRos, associate dean of student affairs at the SMFA, delineated the variety of restaurants the school decided upon. 

“Due to our size, SMFA is able to select a different restaurant for lunch each day to put together a diverse menu over the four-day period,” DaRos wrote in an email to the Daily. 

There are many obstacles to the program, including distribution of such a large number of meals and new statewide and Tufts’ COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, the Office of Student Affairs and others working on the program are powering through.

“Distribution of meals on Thursday, and lunches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, will be at the Gantcher Center.  Logistics for dinner on Saturday and Sunday are still being worked out.  The mobile ordering app will not be used,” Klos said. 

Due to the program’s design and the sheer number of meals needed, customization of orders is sometimes impossible. Instead, students were sent options to choose from, which include options for those with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian and Kosher. 

“There will be a good number of choices, but a program of this size by necessity must limit options to a manageable number for each meal. Students who had indicated they need meals over the break have been asked to complete a survey to enable us to communicate and/or plan what is available,” Klos said. 

This Thanksgiving will be very different from those in the past, but students are looking forward to a break from classes and excited for some downtime before final exams. With cases rising across the state and within the Tufts community, new COVID-19 restrictions have increased both vigilance and stress on campus. 

“We’re pleased with how the program is coming together, although new COVID-related restrictions at both the state and university level, which are needed in light of current trends, will curtail some of the activities and options we had hoped to offer,” Lizarríbar said.