Editor’s note: The 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021–22 recaps in this article are reprinted from the 2022 Commencement Issue of the Daily, with light edits.
The Class of 2023’s first year at Tufts was shaken by a series of developments that 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 adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, were among the many guests who visited Tufts as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
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.
Margot Cardamone became the FIRST Resource Center director after the Office of Student Success and Advising was dissolved in September, and Marvin Casasola was hired as the next Latino Center director.
Early in the fall, the Tufts campus was struck by three consecutive incidents of hate within one month. First, a Jewish student returned to their residence hall on Sept. 15 to discover a swastika affixed to their door; second, a different student found a homophobic slur carved into their door on Oct. 2; third, a sign was defaced at the African American Trail Project exhibit in the Aidekman Arts Center. After the final incident, University President Anthony 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 for $2 million over 10 years, “Medford/Tufts” would be the name of the new Green Line Extension station then under construction at the intersection of Boston Avenue and College Avenue.
Spring semester 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 that 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 Commencement in person when it would again be safe to do so. On May 17, Tufts instead held a virtual all-university degree conferral ceremony.
The Class of 2023’s second year began unconventionally, as Tufts’ academics and activities adapted to a hybrid model in adherence with COVID-19 public health guidelines. While Tufts welcomed students back to campus, some opted to either attend classes remotely or take a leave of absence.
Tufts implemented a number of measures to ensure the safety of community members, including routine testing for students, pooled testing that extended to Somerville and Medford residents and the implementation of The Mods, which facilitated the ability to quarantine students who tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts.
Online programming allowed for a robust lineup of speakers through Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Dr. Anthony Fauci, voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and author Ijeoma Oluo were only a few of the speakers to visit Tufts virtually this year.
The Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion was renamed as part of a larger restructuring effort. This change additionally welcomed three new full-time staffing positions.
The year was also marked by student activism and political engagement. Members of the Tufts community marched in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, formed new campus organizations focused on anti-racism and reevaluated the lack of representation in departmental curricula. This came after a summer of protests and a national reckoning with police brutality and white supremacy in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Student organizations also phone-banked, assisted with voter registration and worked at the polls leading up to the presidential election in November.
Shortly after Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election was announced, Tufts faced challenges within its own student government when the Tufts Community Union Judiciary suspended the Senate Executive Board and Elections Commission in November. The Judiciary believed that the Senate Executive Board and ECOM were planning to appoint students to vacant Senate seats — a violation of the TCU Constitution. The Judiciary then revoked its suspension after less than 24 hours, having resolved what had been a miscommunication between the three branches.
TCU also held a special election at the end of November, which included referenda by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine and Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment, both of which passed. Although 42% of the student body voted — the highest turnout for a special election in Tufts’ history — the university announced that it had no plans to take action on either referendum.
Many students left campus early in fall 2020, with Tufts asking those who traveled for Thanksgiving to remain home and complete classes virtually. Students did not return to campus until late January for the spring semester, which began Feb. 1. Most study abroad programs remained suspended and spring break was condensed into a three day weekend, in part due to traveling risks posed by COVID-19.
Tufts and its surrounding communities were affected by multiple acts of hate early in 2021. Many reacted to the insurrection at the Capitol that took place on Jan. 6, as well as the involvement of Jessica Turner, a member of the Somerville Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The university shared the results of an investigation in February regarding a September incident involving Tufts University Police Department’s response to three women of color hanging a mask on the Jumbo statue as part of a university-sponsored effort to promote JumboVote and [email protected]. The investigation concluded that discrimination did not factor into the incident.
This announcement came only days before two Zoom bombing incidents — one at a diversity, equity and inclusion event — occurred back to back. Monaco subsequently announced the creation of Bias Education Response Teams in March, which are designed to address the impact of hateful and discriminatory acts, as well as provide support to the community.
The Board of Trustees voted to ban direct investments in 120 coal and tar sands companies, which was announced in a Feb. 10 email to the community. However, many environmental organizations on campus remained unsatisfied with the decision, citing a lack of divestment in current holdings.
Monaco also shared the recommendations of five workstreams created in July 2020 as part of the university’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution in a Feb. 17 email. The workstreams — Institutional Audit and Targeted Action, Campus Safety and Policing, Public Art, Compositional Diversity and Equity and Inclusion — were composed of faculty, staff and students.
The Class of 2023 witnessed the monumental reform and restructuring of Greek life on campus as health protocols prevented traditional rush. Following discussions prompted by the online account “Abolish Greek Life at Tufts” over the summer, all members of Alpha Phi and the majority of members in Chi Omega disaffiliated from their national chapters, creating local sororities The Ivy and Thalia, respectively. New members were welcomed through virtual recruitment in the spring.
The university announced that it would close the Confucius Institute in March. The decision came after months of weekly protests from the local Tibetan, Uighur and Hong Kong communities.
A record-low 11% of students were offered admission to the Class of 2025, and the accepted students comprised the most ethnically and racially diverse undergraduate class in Tufts history and are part of the first class that applied under the university’s new test-optional policy.
Former TCU President Amma Agyei (E’22) made history in April as the first Black woman elected to the TCU presidency. Agyei won over Tim Leong (LA’22), who served as TCU vice president.
For the second year in a row, the university planned a virtual Senior Week and Commencement, despite concerns voiced by the senior class. Tufts welcomed civil rights lawyer and author Bryan Stevenson to deliver the 2021 commencement address on May 23.
The Class of 2023’s third year at Tufts saw the return of majority in-person classes, extracurricular activities and study abroad programs, though new variants of COVID-19 left many pandemic guidelines in place, like masking indoors and routine testing.
To facilitate a return to in-person activities, the university required that all students arrive at Tufts fully vaccinated, assisting international students with vaccinations if they were not yet available in their home countries.
However, not all students were able to live on campus. Approximately 100 first-year students were assigned housing at the Hyatt Place in Medford.
The first week of academic classes was marked by an act of hate. A student reported the removal of a mezuzah — a traditional Jewish symbol — from their doorpost in early September. Later that month, another mezuzah was stolen, and Black Lives Matter posters were found purposefully torn down on campus.
The beginning of the academic year saw a number of changes in leadership, with the arrival of Dayna Cunningham as the new dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Kyongbum Lee as the interim dean of the School of Engineering and Yolanda Smith as executive director of public safety.
Tufts mourned the passing of community members in the fall and spring, including students Madie Nicpon ’23 and Cher Xiong ’24; Margaret Rose Vendryres, who was the incoming dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; Danielle Abrams, professor of the practice in the performance department at the SMFA; and Sheldon Krimsky, the Lenore Stern professor of humanities and social sciences in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.
Tufts students rallied around local campaigns leading up to the 2021 mayoral elections in Medford, Somerville and Boston on Nov. 2. Somerville saw the election of Katjana Ballantyne, its first new mayor in 18 years, while Boston elected Michelle Wu, who is the first woman and first person of color to hold the position in the city’s history.
The university announced its intent to establish an Indigenous student identity center under the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion in November, hiring Vernon Miller as its director in February. In April, the community voted in favor of a referendum proposed by the Tufts Community Union to add an Indigenous community senator seat to its organization.
After years of construction, the Joyce Cummings Center finally opened its doors to students in late November. The six-story building, for which planning began in 2015, houses the departments of computer science, economics and mathematics, and is regularly used to host large-scale student gatherings.
The fall semester was cut slightly short when a December outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19 led the university to move all finals online after Dec. 17. The first three days of the spring semester were held remotely due to high caseloads in January.
In February, Monaco announced his intent to step down as university president during the summer of 2023, marking the end of a 12-year tenure.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, students rallied to support Ukraine by protesting, compiling resources on the war and putting on a concert to raise money for medical aid to the country.
Tufts saw yet another increase in the number of applications and offered admission to a record-low 9.7% of applicants to the Class of 2026. To compensate for a lack of housing for these incoming first-year students, the university announced its intent to build temporary, dorm-like structures in place of The Mods on the tennis courts on Professors Row.
The Working Group on TUPD Arming announced its recommendation on March 29 that TUPD alter its arming status to a “hybrid model,” comprising a combination of armed officers and unarmed security professionals. This announcement came a year after five workstreams released report recommendations on how the university can become an anti-racist institution.
The School of Medicine announced plans to open a new Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice on April 8. The center works to address and combat structural racism experienced in health care fields.
Tufts held its first in-person Spring Fling since 2019, featuring performances from Tufts student Ella Jane, BIA and Aminé. Senior week also featured in-person events for the first time in three years.
The Class of 2022 celebrated Commencement on May 22, while the Class of 2020 had an in-person ceremony on May 27. Award-winning scholar Erika Lee (LA’91) delivered the commencement address for the Class of 2022, while Neil Blumenthal (LA’02), co-founder and co-CEO of the eyeglasses company Warby Parker, delivered the commencement address for the Class of 2020.
The Class of 2023’s final year on campus began most similarly to its first: without COVID-19 as a major concern for most students. Mask mandates were nixed and testing requirements abandoned as students, for the first time since March 2020, were able to gather without the looming possibility of a school-mandated, multi-day isolation.
To that end, the university eliminated the units of modular quarantine housing that for two years sat atop the varsity tennis team’s former home, replacing them with an archipelago of first-year housing stock. The modular-style dorms, which accommodate 150 first-years, were branded as “The Court at Professors Row.” As the university plows forward in its plan to grow enrollment, The Courts will remain a standard among other, more traditional first-year living arrangements — but likely only until 2025, when the university is projected to finish construction of a multi-story residence hall on Boston Avenue.
The campus’ expansion was a major theme during the Class of 2023’s time at Tufts. Following years of construction and myriad delays, the MBTA’s Green Line Extension opened its doors on the final day of classes in December. Dozens of students horded the station before dawn to get a seat on the first train as it rolled toward East Somerville and into downtown Boston. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey — plus former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — all headlined the station’s long-awaited ribbon-cutting ceremony later that morning, in a celebration largely symbolic of the university’s geographic expansion over the last decade.
Tufts also broke ground on — and later opened — a new baseball field named after former provost and professor emeritus Sol Gittleman. Renovations are also underway at Eaton Hall, the historic quad-facing academic building that most recently housed departments like religion, sociology and anthropology.
The graduating class’s senior year was also marked by a string of racist and antisemitic incidents in a pattern that has grown familiar to the community. A club sports team was suspended and faced with an investigation by the university after some of its members were allegedly involved in an antisemitic incident at a competition off campus. And in April, racial slurs sent via a chat box on Zoom interrupted a Solomont Speaker series event with the rapper Dee-1. Monaco condemned both incidents and reiterated the university’s commitment to anti-racism and the fight against antisemitism.
Attacks against Tufts’ work to fight racism continued during finals week in the fall, when seven bomb threats were sent to a flurry of university departments from an unknown email over the course of nine days. The threats, listing “anti white racism” as one of its motivators, prompted evacuations from residence halls, the Campus Center, Dowling Hall and a spate of academic buildings, pushing finals online.
Tufts’ upper leadership faced criticism this year after a pair of Daily investigations uncovered a series of high-level departures and a culture in two administrative departments that former staffers described as toxic. The diversity office opened the academic year with a third of its positions empty after two of its chief officers quietly departed in August. Their departures followed a restructuring in the provost’s office — which oversees the university’s diversity work — and an alleged consolidation of administrative power.
The admissions office, too, was reported to be under investigation by an outside law firm following current and former staffer allegations of racist and antisemitic behavior on the part of the dean, JT Duck. Since the Class of 2023 matriculated on campus, at least 22 admissions employees — half of the office’s current size — departed their roles. The investigation came as the attack on affirmative action reached the Supreme Court and as the university pledged its support for Harvard and the University of North Carolina in their ongoing legal battle against the group Students for Fair Admissions.
Tufts resident assistants announced their intention to unionize in November. After the administration declined to voluntarily recognize the United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants , RAs voted 99–3 with 72% turnout to form a union. ULTRA engaged in negotiations with the university over the course of the spring semester, but has yet to ink a contract.
It was another record-breaking year for undergraduate admissions, when Tufts delivered offers to 9.5% of applicants to the Class of 2027, the lowest acceptance rate on record. The pool was historically diverse and represented nearly a 50% spike in applications from 2019, when the Class of 2023 first applied.
The incoming class will enter a university with markedly different leadership from the one that students have come to know over the past decade. The Johns Hopkins provost Sunil Kumar will move into Gifford House and take the reins of the presidency from Monaco in July, who is retiring after a 12-year stint in the role.
Also in the last year, Kyongbum Lee became the dean of the engineering school, Scheri Fultineer took the helm of the SFMA and Howard Woolf announced his retirement as ExCollege dean following 40 years in the office.
Spring Fling was headlined this year by the 2010s pop sensation Flo Rida, who arrived more than an hour late and after many students had already left the annual music festival. Flo Rida was preceded on stage by the DJ trio Cheat Codes, TikTok music star Charlie Curtis-Beard and the Tufts student band Fease.
The performances came a day after junior Arielle Galinsky, the TCU Senate vice president, declared victory in the race for TCU Senate president. She will succeed graduating senior Jaden Pena.
The Class of 2023’s final weeks on campus were marked by an end to the national COVID-19 emergency — and to the university’s vaccination requirement. The move represents the elimination of the last of Tufts’ major COVID-19 mitigation policies, which defined much of the graduating class’s tenure at Tufts.
At the Commencement ceremony on Sunday — Monaco’s last as university president — United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed will deliver the keynote address. Mohammed is known for her work fighting climate change.
Rebecca Barker and Robert Kaplan contributed reporting to this article.