The COVID-19 pandemic has required universities to dynamically weigh the pros and cons of an on-campus experience. Tufts, like other universities, faces the challenge of protecting students’ health while still preserving an engaging academic experience. With the majority of undergraduate Tufts students back on campus for the fall, many are happy to reunite with friends, attend in-person classes and take advantage of on-campus resources. In enjoying these opportunities, we must also be aware that the decision to reopen campus affects not only our own community but Medford and Somerville as well. As we react and readjust to the spread of COVID-19 on our campus, it is critical that the Tufts community and administration account for the concerns of our neighbors in making on-campus decisions.
While returning to campus comes as a relief for many students, local residents are rightfully concerned about the spread of COVID-19. In August, elected officials of Medford and Somerville penned a letter to the Tufts administration urging Tufts to amend its reopening plans and safety protocols. They cited Tufts’ shared living situation off campus as a potential problem with its plan and raised red flags about the implications of students arriving to campus from out of state. Private citizens also protested outside University President Anthony Monaco’s house in August.
Although Tufts established extensive precautionary measures for its own community, disparities between health care received by Tufts students and surrounding community members remain. Tufts students are tested at least once per week, have designated modular housing to isolate if infected and can access quality health care on campus. Not all of Medford and Somerville residents have these same options. As protestors expressed in August, on-campus precautions, while important, cannot entirely eradicate the risk of an outbreak. Even with consistent testing, there still exists the possibility of Tufts students unknowingly spreading the virus to immunocompromised or elderly locals.
Still, Tufts’ protocols exist to prevent this. In order for them to succeed, our Tufts community must recognize that our campus is not a bubble; our actions will affect those outside campus borders. As students, it is crucial that we follow all university protocols by wearing masks, limiting gatherings to 10 people and social distancing when outside of living spaces.
It is also important that we remain actively involved in the surrounding Medford and Somerville communities. By choosing to shop at local stores and order from nearby residents, we help support small business owners who may be facing financial challenges as a result of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. We must also commit to actively supporting residents impacted by the pandemic by donating time and resources to local support funds, such as the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund or the Somerville Cares Fund.
Much weight falls on the university as well. On top of its established procedures, Tufts should follow its trend in the early stages of the pandemic by providing aid to areas affected by outbreaks in the Greater Boston Area. To further enforce these protocols, Tufts must implement graduated sanctions on students who violate Tufts’ policy. Tufts’ administration and faculty members must also be diligent in fielding the questions of community members, a concern some residents left the recent town hall with.
Above all, Tufts must make realistic decisions about on-campus operations while prioritizing the health and safety of both Tufts’ and the surrounding communities. These steps, along with efforts to protect the health of local residents, will prove vital in sustaining growth within the surrounding communities as well as bolstering Tufts’ community relations.
Correction: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly cited those attending the protest outside Gifford house. The editorial has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.