To everyone stepping onto campus for the first time and to everyone returning for another year, welcome to Tufts. We enter this fall semester with remaining uncertainty about COVID-19 and the increased prevalence of newer variants but also with the added comfort of vaccinations — bringing us just a little closer to some sense of normalcy.
This year will be centered on finding a balance between remaining cautious and enjoying lessened restrictions in our social and academic lives. It can definitely seem like a lot to handle, especially in addition to the typical college stresses of being away from home, of increased responsibilities and independence, of taking classes in a highly rigorous academic environment. But it is not without precedent anymore.
Last year, we had to come to terms with many adjustments to campus life. We faced uncertainty and frustration as we navigated hybrid courses, frequent COVID-19 testing and virtual social events. For many of us, the deepened social isolation that we faced took a toll on our mental health, with college students across the country experiencing higher depression and anxiety levels.
This past year has also been defined by a number of cruel, hateful acts against communities of color. The Tufts community grappled with incidents of hate and racial bias occurring on campus in the aftermath of a fraught election season and an overdue national reckoning regarding the systemic racism and violence directed toward marginalized communities.
Tufts students have continued to prove that taking action to bring about systemic change and showing solidarity with our fellow community members can and must be done, regardless of the circumstances. Tufts students have created groups to provide support and form connections among historically marginalized groups on campus, spearheaded initiatives to combat global water and food insecurity crises and held rallies calling on the university to fully divest from fossil fuels and to support its dining workers.
And despite having missed out on many in-person experiences, including student events and face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates, we made the most out of the cards we were dealt. We showed that despite the limitations, we could still have a rigorous and fulfilling academic experience.
While last year showed us the resilience of our community and our ability to continue to form connections, we are also undoubtedly eager to begin this year with lessened restrictions and the full student body present on campus. In light of these changes, we should all learn from last year to take advantage of every opportunity for so-called normalcy that we can. We should use in-person classes and office hours to interact with our classmates and professors and to engage with coursework in ways not possible in a virtual format. We should spend time with friends, participate in campus events, support local businesses and explore neighboring communities while remaining cognizant of how our choices affect those around us.
It would be irresponsible to assume that a successful past year of learning or the addition of the vaccines means that we can begin to disregard the presence of the pandemic, especially as the Delta variant sweeps across our nation. As the number of infections increases, it is now more important than ever to be thoughtful in the ways that we approach COVID-19 restrictions and procedures.
With that said, we enter this new year confident that Tufts is prepared to keep its students, staff and surrounding communities safe. But that means we must be cautious of our own actions as well. We must ensure that everyone on this campus is working towards creating a space that is safe, welcoming and inclusive. We must commit to educating ourselves and listening to those affected by injustice in all its forms.
New and returning students alike should feel supported and comfortable in this community. They should feel hopeful and ready to take on new academic and social experiences. They should be prepared to confront discriminatory behavior and make safe and responsible choices regarding COVID-19 protocol. Even in another year of uncertainty, if we remain aware of how our behavior affects those around us, we can all have a worthwhile and fulfilling experience here on the Hill.