Clarification: This editorial has been updated to reflect the FIRST center’s collaboration with Tufts Mutual Aid and role in aid efforts.
Since the university’s necessary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students have faced many unprecedented challenges beyond the shock of leaving campus on a six-days notice. Our student body resides across the globe with many students lacking immediate financially accessible forms of storage, transportation, food, housing and other vital resources.
The university organized some student relief through its resource centers and continuation of services such as mental health counseling. The FIRST Resource Center provided essential funds to those in financially challenging situations; it has effectively crowdfunded more than $100,000 towards student relief and collaborated with Tufts Food Rescue. The university has also admirably moved to serve our community through dormitory to patient housing reconfiguration.
However, these efforts do not encompass other important actions that the university should have taken. Moreover, this crisis particularly harms international students, those with a hostile home environment and low-income community members not only because of the aforementioned troubles, but also due to this incomplete university involvement, notably, its mass denial of housing requests. The university rejected 289 of 590 requests despite the clear student need during this difficult time. Further, despite its positive contributions, the Tufts administration left much of its student body alone, stressed and uncertain.
Unlike the Tufts administration, student-run organizations moved quickly to fill this need. Tufts Mutual Aid (TMA), collaborating with the FIRST center, and other organizations jumped to provide various resources to students, with TMA connecting those in need with fellow students and community members with access to resources such as housing or storage. These community actions are highly admirable, highlighting the unity, resourcefulness and empathy of our student body; nevertheless, this extreme responsibility should have fallen on the university, not students dealing with the harsh consequences of this crisis themselves.
The university’s closure forced students to find storage solutions on extraordinarily short notice, often to the detriment of one’s finances and mental health; however the almost instantaneous aid of TMA proved imperative to making up for the university’s faults. While Tufts’ partnership with UPS seemed like a simple, helpful solution to this problem, many students discovered that storage for their personal belongings would cost hundreds of dollars, inhibiting their ability to use this resource and other similar services. The quick action of Tufts Mutual Aid connected these students to others with homes nearby for storage solutions. Many Tufts students generously offered their basements, extra rooms and money to store student items, reducing stress and providing the help the university should have given in the first place.
As previously indicated, many students immediately faced harsh housing realities, especially those without the financial or circumstantial capabilities to return to their pre-university homes within the short timeframe. Tufts did not universally include housing issues such as a hostile home environment or low-income and international status as acceptable reasons to remain on-campus past the deadline — to stay, the university required students to prove that their home is in an area of high COVID-19 risk or an area of restricted travel or that they experience “extenuating financial or personal circumstances,” according to Dean of Student Life and Engagement Chris Rossi. This decision led those in other vulnerable situations to evacuate their homes — United States citizens or green-card students who live in Level 3 risk countries, those with unstable home internet, students with hostile home environments and many low-income or international students. Using the Tufts Mutual Aid Google form, students with off-campus housing offered their space to those in need. This commendable effort from TMA provided these students with a place to sleep when Tufts could not, allowing affected individuals the time to sort out the safest, most financially sound solution to this challenging situation.
On top of these housing and storage deficits, other financial issues threaten student safety as well; the administration gave unsatisfactory support and thus burdened Tufts Mutual Aid and the rest of the Tufts community. Many Tufts students, especially low-income students relying on financial aid packages, found themselves unprepared to handle the additional financial hardships of plane tickets, loss of campus jobs, food insecurity and other consequences of the crisis. While the FIRST center commendably organized crowdfunding efforts and distributed resources, our community contributing the finances to the crowdfunding; thus, this community and TMA provided much of these funds and filled much of the overall void left by the university, offering assistance through food donations, free car rides, airplane mileage points and, importantly, direct monetary redistribution through Venmo. Students sent funds to those who demonstrated financial need in order to purchase needed resources, doing what our university largely failed to in this uncertain time.
Ultimately, TMA and community efforts prove admirable and utterly necessary considering student need, which resulted from the university’s inadequate effort to support its students when it mattered most. These deficits will form the basis of the editorial board’s content in the remainder of the semester. Through discussing how the university should have acted as well as how they should move forward in regards to ongoing issues such as international student visas, refunds, loss of on-campus jobs and academic protocols, we hope to paint a picture and advocate for a future where Tufts supports its students through highs, lows, connection and division.