Editorial: How to fix first-year community

Many in the class of 2021 believe that the Tufts social scene is particularly lacking. This is partially a byproduct of the general campus structure that hinders the ability to make meaningful connections. Fortunately, the re-evaluation of residential setup is underway, and it has potential to create the environment necessary for first-years to find their social niche.

First-years need social spaces that are specifically for first-years. Navigating through one of the most significant transitions of their lives, incoming students would benefit immensely from an inclusive, safe space to converse about common experiences. Tufts does not currently offer the necessary resources to properly transition first-year students into college life, as noted by the Student Life Review Committee. A large part of the problem is the limited number of communal spaces that can enable engagement and conversation within living communities.

Take, for example, Houston Hall. The winding hallways and lack of common spaces have created a strange allocation of space in the first-year hall. The organization of Houston is not at all conducive to fostering community.  This is particularly unfortunate for first-years, for whom community integration is incumbent upon positive residential situations.

In addition, if Tufts successfully implements the necessary actions to rectify this issue, it could be a selling point for prospective students. On tours, high schoolers are most likely focused on their immediate future rather than their junior and senior years. Therefore, having collaborative and strong first-year communities would be especially appealing from an admissions standpoint.

Another way to go about this issue would be to localize all first-years around the Res Quad in Miller, Houston and Carmichael Halls. Having all first-years live uphill to increase communication and integration among first-years would alleviate some of the social pressures correlated with the moratorium on Greek Life, which has left a hole in social opportunities. It is understood that there may be some logistical issues with this reorganization, considering that Tufts Dining’s largest clientele is first-years, and this would lead to an influx of first-years eating in Carmichael. However, if Tufts lifted the requirement that mandates first-years having unlimited meal plans, it would help mediate this problem.

Vanderbilt University has implemented a similar structure to the one described above. They have dedicated an entire portion of their campus to first-year residential life, referred to as “The Commons.” It is fully equipped with an eco-friendly dining hall, fitness center, recreational rooms and even showcases musical performances. Their setup has been overwhelmingly successful, with Vanderbilt cited by The Princeton Review as having “the happiest students.”

Tufts should keep the notion of a building stronger community in mind when renovating first-year living conditions. Moving to college is arguably one of the most transformative experiences in a student’s life, and the university can do so much more to create a stronger, more sustainable and more welcoming community. This sense of unity is one that is invaluable to first-years. It will take time, but this renovation could be the first step in the right direction.