The Tufts administration, collaborating with the identity-based centers and Tufts Mutual Aid (TMA), has taken steps in recent weeks to provide assistance to students from low-income and minority backgrounds amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The need for assistance arose as a result of the abrupt announcement last month from University President Anthony Monaco that classes would shift online and campus would be cleared of on-campus residents, with the intention of slowing the rate of coronavirus transmission in and around the Tufts community.
Chris Rossi, dean of student life and engagement, acknowledged the difficulties many students are facing as a result of the transition.
“The necessary decision to have students leave the residence halls helped curtail the possibility of an outbreak in our undergraduate population … but certainly presented significant challenges to our low-income students,” Rossi wrote in an email to the Daily.
In an effort to support low-income students, Tufts Dining Services has delivered food to those students residing off-campus and provided meal plans for students approved to remain on campus who did not previously have a meal plan, so long as their estimated family contribution was under $28,000, according to Rossi.
Nandi Bynoe, associate dean of diversity and inclusion, also recognized that the call to move off campus disproportionately affected low-income and minority students, and worked to focus support on them by working with the identity-based centers.
“The Center directors and I immediately moved to thinking about the disparate impacts that the move might have on different students. Together we strategized different ways to support students as they moved off campus,” Bynoe wrote in an email to the Daily.
Distinct from the measures taken by university administrators to support students, students created TMA last month, with the goal of redistributing resources to those most in need of aid during the global pandemic.
Though many have left campus, Monique Dubois, a junior and one of the leaders of TMA, explained that TMA is still connecting students with resources, and plans to remain active for the rest of the semester.
“We’re really hoping to just be a great bridge between a larger community and students in need to help them find structure and support. We’re really just trying to be a support for people who need it,” Dubois said.
While the administration and student-run organizations like TMA have worked together to provide support services, some students felt administrators could have done more to ease their transition and extend resources.
“I don’t think they provided enough infrastructure for students who needed it, they definitely tried, but it just wasn’t enough, which is why organizations like TMA ended up being so helpful,” Evan Schwartz, a junior, said.
Schwartz, who is also a member of TMA, explained that he decided to become involved in the initiative to aid students and provide them with the necessary resources to cope with the changes brought upon by COVID-19.
“I saw TMA and I saw people who were being a facilitator between people who had issues and people who could solve those issues, and I was like oh, this is a thing that is really, really necessary … so I hopped on and I joined in,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said that he believes the university’s efforts to support students lacked organization and infrastructure due to the panic surrounding the pandemic and a desire to act quickly in order to keep people safe.
Dubois, along with others that included juniors Marley Hillman and Grant Gebetsberger, created a form where people could indicate whether they needed or could give aid.
These students organized that information into a spreadsheet, where people could see what resources were available and what was needed and reach out to others accordingly.
About two weeks after campus closed, Dubois joined Monaco in a virtual town hall intended to allay student concerns, alongside Dean of Student Affairs and Chief Student Affairs Officer ad interim Nancy Thompson, Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences James Glaser and Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu.
During the event, in which administrators delivered statements about the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dubois posed questions that were submitted by students regarding the ways in which Tufts would support its students. In response, Thompson praised TMA for their work.
“Tufts Mutual Aid is just a really good example of how this community works. It’s students helping students and also helping us — we, in the administration — to understand what those needs are,” Thompson said. “I just value that partnership so much and appreciate the work that you’re doing.
Dubois also inquired about the impact on students who depended on financial aid to cover their room and board, and whether they would have to shoulder those costs alone.
“The university will not be providing them with room and board, and they will have to come up with family solutions,” Glaser said.
Many students who applied to remain on campus were denied. Of the nearly 600 students who applied, only about half were initially approved, but not all chose to stay on campus, according to Thompson.
According to Dubois, only a select few of those initial denials for which TMA advocated were reevaluated, even though some space was created by those who chose not to remain on campus.