Roughly 200 students, faculty and area residents attended a walk out and campus march Thursday to protest the university’s tiered housing system and to call for the construction of a new high-capacity dorm on campus.
Nathan Krinsky, a co-founder of Tufts Housing League (THL), said that THL and Tufts Student Action (TSA), who co-hosted the event, presented a united front against the university’s current housing policies.
“It’s very important for us to represent these diverse perspectives and show the administration that all these different groups stand united in our demands for housing justice,” Krinsky, a senior, said.
Participants gathered outside Latin Way Apartments at 11 a.m. and marched up through lower campus, following a route led by organizers wearing reflective jackets and chanting about the need to end tiered housing and instead build a new high-capacity dorm on campus.
Katjana Ballantyne, president of the Somerville Board of Aldermen, was one of the 12 speakers who addressed the crowd outside Ballou Hall, where the march ended. She told the crowd that she supports THL and TSA’s efforts against the tiered housing system and the expansion of off-campus housing into surrounding neighborhoods.
“I want you to know that I am with you from the beginning and to the end,” Ballantyne said. “I would like to see Tufts University … develop [its] center without more expansion into our neighborhoods.”
Representatives from Tufts Dining Action Coalition and Our Revolution Somerville were also among the speakers at the rally.
The event continued throughout the rest of the day with workshops, teach-ins, performances and a community dinner on the academic quad, according to Krinsky.
THL and TSA also pitched tents surrounding the cannon. Mauri Trimmer, a THL member, said that six students plan to sleep in the tents Thursday night. Trimmer added that the set-up, named “Tier Town”, was a visual representation of housing deficiencies on campus.
“It’s nicknamed ‘the lowest tiered housing on campus’ as a nod to this tiered housing policy [Tufts is] trying to implement,” Trimmer, a junior, said. “This is a really visible way to call out the housing crises that are happening on and off campus. We’re hoping this high visibility event will really get [administrators’] attention that Tufts students and community members are willing to work for change.”
Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins told the Daily in an email that the university respects students’ rights to voice their concern about the tiered housing system, which is scheduled to be introduced for the 2019–20 academic year.
“Throughout this fall, administrators have engaged with many student groups to further their understanding of ways our system proactively addresses concerns they have raised, and we are committed to continued engagement with the student community to work towards transparency and clarity,” Collins said.
Collins added that Tufts’ implementation of tiered housing will align the university with others in the Boston area.
Krinsky said that event preparation started one month in advance. The walk out was THL’s first major demonstration on campus, according to Shane Woolley, a THL co-founder.
Woolley said that THL and TSA scheduled the event to occur before housing applications open Friday.
“I’ve heard so many students around campus talking about tiered housing and how they’re stressed out about planning around it when they decide where to live [and] who to live with for next semester,” Woolley, a senior, said. “We’re bringing this to attention now because it’s affecting students now. People are stressed about this, people are angry about this, now people are doing something about this.”
Parker Breza, one of the organizers, said that the event allowed students and community members to join THL and TSA’s movement against the tiered housing system.
“This action will be another way for students and community members to come together to show their support for democratic decision-making, a new dorm and for an end to Tiered Housing,” Breza, a senior, told the Daily in an email. “Since the announcement of the Tiered Housing Policy this summer, students have been very vocal about the harm that Tiered Housing will cause, particularly for low-income and financial aid students.”
Collins reiterated that financial aid awards will be adjusted to support full demonstrated need, regardless of a student’s housing selection.
THL and TSA also have joined to call for a construction of a new-high capacity dorm on campus, according to Woolley. Tufts has not added a high-capacity dorm to campus since the construction of Sophia Gordon Hall in 2006.
“Currently, Tufts is planning to add 400 students over the next four years, which is an insane amount of students to add to our already overburdened housing without building any new dorms at all,” Woolley said. “We’re asking them to take that seriously and build more on campus housing, bring more students back on campus [and] stop gentrifying neighborhoods around here.”
The university intends to increase class sizes by 100 students over a four-year period, starting with the Class of 2021, according to minutes and slides from an Oct. 24 School of Arts and Sciences faculty meeting.
The university administration believes that renovating current housing on campus is currently more feasible than building a new dorm, according to Collins.
“The strategy of renovating and optimizing space in existing dorms and converting wood frame houses into junior-senior apartments is both more cost-effective and more timely,” Collins said. “We have a goal of adding 600 beds in a five-year span. By the fall of 2019, we’ll have added more than 400 beds towards that goal. At the same time, we will satisfy a demand among juniors and seniors for apartment-style living.”
Collins added that a new dorm could be built on campus in the future with more funding.
Amira Al-Subaey, one of the organizers, said that both THL and TSA are optimistic that their efforts will bring housing change on campus.
“We know what fair housing looks like, and we know that Tufts has the capacity to solve this issue if they want to,” Al-Subaey, a senior, said.
Nicolas Avalle contributed reporting to this article.