As this semester comes to a close, students are beginning to make plans for winter break. While many may be eager to return home for the holidays, some students may not have the same option due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic; international students and students with high-risk family members, for example, could potentially face significant barriers to returning home. Despite these challenges, Tufts will offer limited on-campus housing during winter break, with exceptions for “international students who face travel restrictions” and those facing “significant hardships.”
In determining who will be offered these exceptions, it is critical that the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) take into account the extenuating financial, physical and emotional challenges that students face in this unprecedented time. Tufts must accommodate students who cannot return home during winter break by expanding on-campus housing to all students who need it.
While the university says that it will make exceptions for students facing significant hardships, it is important to recognize that this promise has not always been fulfilled. Despite having fairly similar requirements to apply for on-campus housing when campus closed in March, the university denied close to half of the housing requests received, leaving students to scramble for last minute housing options. For international students and students in financially challenging situations, limiting housing options was a major cause of stress. With hindsight bias and more time to plan this time around, it is necessary that Tufts learn from its mistakes and open on-campus housing to students that have limited housing options during the break.
Providing sufficient on-campus housing is particularly important due to the extenuating conditions of the pandemic. With the recent rise in cases in Massachusetts and the United States, college students bring home with them a high risk of spreading the virus. If rejected from on-campus housing, students with vulnerable family members risk exposing them to the virus, especially if they do not have the ability to properly quarantine upon arrival. Furthermore, students who are high risk themselves may feel safer remaining on campus, where they can maintain control of their surroundings and have access to testing. In any of these situations, it is vital that Tufts provide a safe, reliable option for students to reside during the long winter break.
It is understandable that Tufts faces considerable restrictions that may prevent it from expanding on-campus housing, including reserving time to clean residence halls and giving Tufts staff well-deserved time off after working for months to keep our community safe. However, by still decreasing on-campus operations and limiting students to designated residence halls, Tufts can address these restrictions while still allowing more students to remain on campus.
Given the exceptional circumstances that our community faces, it is more necessary than ever that Tufts accommodate students who may face uncertain living situations this winter. Similar to recent years, Tufts should conduct a survey in order to gauge student demand for winter break housing. When determining who will get to use on-campus facilities, Tufts must take all student concerns into account. Decisions should be made swiftly so that students who are rejected from student housing have adequate time to plan. For these students, it is imperative that the university offer them active support and resources, such as helping arrange transportation, assisting students in finding alternative living plans and providing financial support to those who cannot afford to travel home.
It should not come down to student groups, much less students themselves, to have to make last-minute housing arrangements. Ultimately, it is up to the university to provide all students with consistent, reliable support and resources, even after the semester ends in December. In a time when so much is out of our control, it is important that Tufts preserve students’ “home away from home” on the Hill.