Tufts Mutual Aid steps up to assist students amid move out orders

Tufts students are rallying to provide financial and in-kind assistance to students facing difficulty in the wake of the administration’s decision to continue classes online beginning on March 25.

In response to growing concerns about on-campus transmission of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, University President Anthony Monaco announced on Tuesday evening that students living on campus should move out of residence halls entirely by March 16, though some students with extenuating circumstances would be permitted to stay with approval.

Monaco also announced that classes on Friday would be cancelled to allow students more time to depart, and that its undergraduate spring break would be extended to smooth the transition to online classes.

Junior Marley Hillman organized Tufts Mutual Aid that same evening, which is coordinating the resource distribution efforts. Within hours, Hillman posted a Google form on Facebook for interested students to list resources they wish to offer to those in need — from storage space and food to frequent flyer points and transportation to the airport, among others  — which are in turn compiled on a centralized view-only spreadsheet for all Tufts students to view and request listed resources directly from those offering them.

The resource allocation effort was met with an outpouring of student support — the spreadsheet received more than 500 responses, as of press time. According to Hillman, student responses “exploded” in the short time between them going to sleep at 2:30 a.m. and waking up the next morning.

“People are wondering, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ We have to leave [on March 16], we’re not coming back,” Hillman said. “We said, ‘Here’s something you can do.’ So I feel like that’s been part of why we’ve gotten so much material support — we’re offering an avenue for action.”

The organizers initially introduced a separate form to provide and request donations via Venmo as a more liquid and measurable resource to students in need. Hillman reported that $1,300 had already been redistributed overnight, and a total of $5,130 had been distributed to students in need by Wednesday evening.

Junior Grant Gebetsberger, who joined the organizing efforts early on along with fellow organizer junior Monique DuBois, indicated that Tufts Mutual Aid planned on coordinating its financial donations with the FIRST Center and its director, Margot Cardamone. Following about a day of mediated Venmo transactions, Tufts Mutual Aid then announced that they would instead encourage donations to the FIRST Center’s Unexpected Hardship Fund for Student Needs.

Gebetsberger was impressed that the group of organizers managing the project grew from only Hillman to 18 people within hours, including Cardamone.

“It’s been really incredible to watch the mobilization,” Gebetsberger said.

In a FIRST Center newsletter, Cardamone suggested Tufts Mutual Aid as an additional resource for first-generation, low-income students to employ as they cope with the significant costs and obstacles of departing from campus on short notice. The newsletter further comforted students amidst the quickly changing circumstances following the university’s announcement.

“These conditions have shown us how strong, reliant, and thoughtful you all have been in supporting one another,” the newsletter read. “We are proud and will continue to be here as we figure out next steps together.”

Following student suggestions on Facebook that student organizations donate their unused funds to Tufts Mutual Aid, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate announced later on Wednesday that it would also donate funds to the FIRST Center’s Hardship Fund.

“$50,000 are being transferred, and the funds are available to the FIRST Center effective immediately,” TCU Treasurer junior Sharif Hamidi wrote in an electronic message.

While Tufts Mutual Aid will continue to support students by coordinating non-financial resources, TCU Senate’s donation will support the FIRST Center’s assistance efforts significantly, according to Cardamone.

“We are … extremely grateful to TCU Senate for transferring money to the unexpected hardship fund so we can aid students who can not afford to fly home with this short notice,” Cardamone wrote in an email.

Gebetsberger reflected on the ramifications and legacy of Tufts’ decision and the community’s response to the developing situation.

“We’re living through human history — this is unprecedented,” Gebetsberger said. “How we respond to this is going to define us for so long going forward, and it’s go[ing to] say so much more about our community than I think we ever knew we were going to find out.”


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