Even long before the pandemic, Residential Assistants (RAs) played an integral role in facilitating community and promoting safety within residential halls. These responsibilities increased this semester, as RAs have had to adapt to being some of the primary enforcers of the residential cohort system. A lack of guidance from the university has led to increased stress among RAs. As we approach the second half of the semester and upcoming winter months, Tufts must better support its RAs and enforce the residential cohort system in order to foster community within dorms and protect the health of its students.
The residential cohort system, one of the many systems instituted by Tufts to curb the spread of COVID-19, was intended to provide students with the opportunity for more personal, social contact with peers. Within cohorts, which typically consist of six to 12 people, students can relax social distancing guidelines as long as they are still wearing masks. In the Fall 2020 Campus Guide, Tufts acknowledged the risk that these cohorts might pose given the breach of social distancing requirements. Thus far, Tufts’ preventionary measures have been successful in preventing outbreaks on campus; however, the approaching cold and flu season and isolating winter warrant the university’s more strictly enforcing residential cohorts.
Despite the importance of this system, some RAs have felt that they were left in the dark about their responsibilities in enforcing cohort system rules. At the beginning of the semester, RAs experienced confusion surrounding cohort assignments, as well as frustration in response to a lack of guidance from the university. Mina Shokoufandeh, a sophomore RA in Haskell Hall, expressed that while Tufts extensively trained RAs going into the semester, there is still a lot of pressure on RAs.
“RAs cannot serve as police of COVID policy and, personally, I often feel like this is the case,” Shokoufandeh wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “I do not want to be feared as an RA and I sometimes feel like that is what’s happening.”
Due to inadequate communication about the cohort system from the university, some students living in residential halls were unaware of who was in their cohort when they arrived on campus. First-year student Ami Sao spoke to the general feeling of unease among the first-year community, stating that she felt the cohort system had not allowed her to create the community that she had hoped for.
“I didn’t know who my cohort was for a while and … cohorts didn’t [really] play a huge role in who I talked to because of that,” Sao said.
Although residential cohorts were created in part to foster a sense of community and connection among students, insufficient enforcement of cohort systems has caused the opposite effect for some. Furthermore, this confusion and lack of transparency surrounding cohorts could lead to the relaxing of social distancing requirements and intermingling of cohorts, making contract tracing more difficult and endangering more students on campus. In this time of uncertainty, it is particularly important to have a strong support system in students’ places of residence, especially for first-year and transfer students.
In the spring and beyond, Tufts must do a better job supporting RAs and fostering community within residential halls by increasing transparency regarding the cohort system. Before the start of next semester, the university must clearly communicate cohort lists to both residents and RAs. Additionally, the Office of Residential Life and Learning should offer more resources and support to RAs in the process of training and adapting to cohorts. This could include hiring additional university employees who are responsible for enforcing cohort systems and social distancing within dorms.
Residential cohorts are integral to the success of Tufts’ on-campus operations and the creation of a sociable yet safe campus environment. By prioritizing these systems, Tufts can support both the mental and physical health of residents and RAs, this semester and beyond.