The Class of 2020’s time at Tufts was one marked by historic events and systemic changes. From student activism and an overhaul of Greek life to virtual classes and a postponed Commencement, the Daily has documented some of the most memorable moments in the past four years. As the Class of 2020 graduates, the Daily is reviewing the history it leaves behind at Tufts.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency saw a rise in campus tensions and set the tone for the Class of 2020’s first year on campus.
Hundreds took part in a walkout planned by Tufts United for Immigrant Justice to express support for Tufts’ undocumented students and call for the university to be designated a sanctuary campus.
University President Anthony Monaco made an appearance, and while he did not explicitly support the sanctuary campus movement, he read a statement reaffirming the university’s commitment to protecting its undocumented students.
The day before election day, the Tufts Observer published an article detailing an act of hazing and sexual assault during a fraternity event. The piece called for the abolition of fraternities and precipitated a campus-wide movement for the abolition of Greek life.
Though participation in Greek life had risen to nearly a quarter of the student body the previous year, nearly half of the members of the Delta chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi left the sorority early in the fall, following disagreements with the national organization over the chapter’s decision to extend a bid to a transgender woman. The Chi Omega sorority also saw a drop in membership, with members criticizing the national organization and Greek life as an institution.
Labor was also a prominent issue. The university barely avoided a strike while negotiating janitor contracts and nearly faced a National Labor Relations Board hearing over unpopular schedule changes. Graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences voted to unionize, and part-time faculty members rallied to support the renegotiation of their contracts.
Rising senior Benya Kraus was elected Tufts Community Union (TCU) President. The TCU Senate faced controversial resolutions, including an unsuccessful resolution proposed by free speech group Students Advocating for Students calling for changes to the university sexual misconduct policy and a resolution, passed 17-6-8, that called for the university to divest from companies that TCU Senate said were involved in the occupation of Palestinian territories. Tufts celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the fall, a victory for the TCU Senate, which had twice passed resolutions in support of the holiday.
Tufts had a number of visitors, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, whose presence provoked a protest and walkout. Even actor Matt Damon made an appearance, showing up twice at the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center.
At the end of the year, a group known as TuftsLeaks published documents online that included department budgets, the salaries of thousands of staff and faculty and the ID numbers of student employees with salaries listed.
The Class of 2020’s second year saw Tufts make national news on account of a much-publicized resignation from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Board of Advisors, a conclusion to the previous year’s Greek life investigations and new directors at half of the Group of Six centers.
In November 2017, second-year MALD candidate Camilo Caballero published op-eds in the Daily supporting a petition to remove former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci (LA’86) from the Fletcher School’s Board of Advisors. Scaramucci sent a letter threatening a defamation lawsuit and demanding a public apology as well as the retraction of both op-eds. Scaramucci resigned the next morning.
The fall also saw an end to the Greek life investigations that started the previous year. One fraternity, Pi Delta, chose to dissolve rather than resolve allegations of misconduct. Two fraternities, Delta Upsilon and Zeta Psi, were suspended until September 2018. One fraternity, Theta Delta Chi, was found responsible for multiple violations of university policy and had its recognition revoked without room for appeal until 2027. Three fraternities — Pi Rho, Delta Tau Delta and Theta Chi — were placed on disciplinary probation. One sorority, Chi Omega, was placed on disciplinary probation until December 2018, and the other fraternities and sororities were found to be in good standing with the university.
In another attempt to address the ongoing housing shortage, the university made progress on the Community Housing (CoHo) project, which was first suggested by the Residential Strategies Working Group. The project, originally named Capen Village, was approved by the Medford Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 11 and opened to juniors and seniors in fall 2018.
Rising senior Jacqueline Chen won the election for TCU president against rising senior Adam Rapfogel.
TCU Senate passed a number of resolutions. One called for the pass/fail deadline to be extended to 10 weeks for all students and was affirmed by a faculty vote on Feb. 7, 2018. The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution calling for the separation of the Asian American Center and Asian American identity-based housing to improve accessibility to the center.
The Group of Six saw major changes. Hope Freeman, Julián Cancino and K. Martinez were hired as center directors for the LGBT, Latino and Women’s Centers, respectively. In February 2018, the university announced the creation of a first-generation student center, the FIRST Resource Center, and in April, Martinez stepped down as Women’s Center director, citing hostility at Tufts on and off campus.
The year saw another victory for labor activists, with Tufts Dining workers voting overwhelmingly to unionize in April 2018.
The end of the year was tinged with mild controversy, however, with some students expressing disappointment over the choice of former DuPont CEO and Tufts alumna Ellen J. Kullman (E’78) to deliver the 2018 commencement address. Kullman faced criticisms over violations of environmental regulations that occurred during her tenure as CEO of DuPont.
The year began with the initial rollout of CoHo, bringing in 45 new beds to campus for juniors and seniors. By the second semester, 39 more beds were added as the second phase rolled out, with the final phase set for next fall.
The political climate on campus was tense leading up to the midterm elections. On Nov. 1, 2018, less than a week before the midterms, reporters for the Daily discovered posters reading “It’s ok to be white” around campus, covering get-out-the-vote signs placed by JumboVote. The posters have been linked to white nationalists, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
The ballot questions for that year’s midterm elections were equally important to Tufts, particularly Question 3, which threatened to exclude gender identity from a list of state-held protections. The statewide Yes on 3 campaign, which upheld transgender rights, was campaigned for aggressively on Tufts’ campus, and Question 3 passed in favor of retaining protections based on gender identity.
During the midterm elections, Ayanna Pressley was elected to represent Massachusetts’ 7th District in Congress. Pressley is the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts on the national stage.
In the second semester, Julián Cancino, the former director of the Latino Center, left Tufts, leaving three of the Group of Six centers without permanent directors. The FIRST Resource Center, aiming to serve first-generation students, opened for its first academic year.
Housing in areas other than CoHo also saw major changes throughout the year. In February, the Office of Residential Life and Learning announced that the SMFA Beacon Street dorms would house only first-years in the coming academic year due to historically large class sizes. Carmichael Hall would house only first-years in the coming year; Harleston Hall would house only sophomores.
In February, Rabbi Naftali Brawer found posters containing anti-Israel messages defacing the Granoff Family Hillel Center. The act was decried as antisemitic and as holding the whole of the Jewish diaspora responsible for the acts of the state of Israel.
Identity-based tensions on campus continued as a message in favor of survivors of sexual assault on the Cannon was painted over with “Trump 2020” and eggings on campus occurred. One of the victims cited “transmisogyny” as the reason for the egging.
The year also saw rising tensions between dining workers and Tufts, as UNITE HERE Local 26 continued to negotiate for a fair contract. In particular, students and workers held a picket outside of Carmichael Hall with an attendance of over 800 as students shouted slogans in support of the dining workers. Shortly afterward, the dining workers voted to authorize a strike, which was narrowly avoided when Tufts and the workers reached an agreement on April 29.
The Class of 2020’s final year at Tufts was shaken by a series of developments that again made Tufts the focus of national news, before being cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts Ed Markey and Karl Rove, a former special advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush, were some of the many guests who visited Tufts as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series during the Class of 2020’s senior year.
While impeachment proceedings of U.S. President Donald Trump prevented then-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennett from visiting, fellow candidate Marianne Williamson met with Tufts Democrats in October.
Early in the fall, campus was struck by three consecutive incidents of hate within one month. First, a Jewish student on Sept. 15 returned to their residence hall to discover a swastika affixed to their door; second, a different student on Oct. 2 found a homophobic slur carved into their door; third, a sign was defaced at the African American Trail Project exhibit in the Aidekman Arts Center. After the final incident, Monaco announced the formation of two Bias Response Teams to focus on supporting the Tufts community.
The Tufts community also learned in September that Monaco attended a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the previous year, though the university did not disclose it at the time.
Tufts again made headlines in December by deciding to remove the Sackler name from its health sciences campus and programs and establishing a $3 million endowment focused on substance abuse and addiction prevention and treatment. The university made the decision following the completion of an independent review of its relationship with the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma by former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts David Stern and Attorney Sandy Remz.
Tufts announced on Jan. 2 that “Medford/Tufts” would be the name of the new Green Line Extension station under construction at the intersection of Boston Avenue and College Avenue for the cost of $2 million over 10 years. When completed, the station will be directly adjacent to the Joyce Cummings Center, a new academic building under construction since June 2019 and in planning since 2015.
The Class of 2020’s final semester at Tufts began with Tisch College’s historic move to Barnum Hall from Lincoln-Filene Hall, which also coincided with the beginning of its 20th anniversary celebrations. Barnum Hall had been closed for about a year since extensive renovations began in May 2018 and finished the following summer.
Divestment lobbying made headway in February when the administration appointed members to the Responsible Investment Advisory Group for a review of Tufts’ investments in the fossil fuel industry. The Board of Trustees established the advisory committee four months prior, after nearly seven years of student activism on the issue.
The semester was upended, however, when Monaco announced on March 10 the closure of campus and shift to online classes due to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. Tufts confirmed its first positive case days later while students spontaneously organized financial and material support through Tufts Mutual Aid.
Although classes resumed remotely on March 25, campus buildings were shuttered as many students were forced to return home, some petitioned to remain and others still were quarantined on campus. Students studying abroad as well as exchange students at Tufts all returned home, though some faced great difficulty as travel bans were implemented worldwide.
Dining workers’ hours were cut with most dining locations closed, but they secured an agreement to extend benefits through the end of the semester. Among other academic policy modifications, faculty approved a new and temporary “Exceptional Pass/Fail” grading system, which was opt-in and would satisfy all academic requirements. The administration reaffirmed its commitment to meeting full demonstrated need in financial aid, despite an expected $15 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year and an estimated $50 million shortfall in the next.
Having initially canceled ceremonies entirely, the administration responded to outrage from many members of the Class of 2020 by promising to hold in-person Commencement when it would again be safe to do so. Today, Tufts will hold a virtual all-university degree conferral ceremony.
Robert Kaplan, Austin Clementi and Zachary Hertz contributed reporting to this article.
Editor’s note: The 2016–17, 2017–18 and 2018–19 recaps in this article are reprinted from the 2018–19 Commencement issue of the Daily.