Editorial: First-Year Legacy Reception highlights Tufts’ elitism

The Tufts Class of 2023 matriculated into Tufts University on Aug. 28, and while the majority of the newly minted class spent time after the ceremony attending various seminars and bidding farewell to family members, a select group of new students and their families walked down hill to the Science and Engineering Complex, where this year’s annual Legacy Reception took place. The event dripped with the elitism that the Tufts administration tries hard to mask during the rest of orientation.

Hosted by the Tufts Alumni Association, and attended by University President Anthony Monaco and numerous faculty, the event was conveniently left out of published orientation programming. This year’s orientation booklet notes that new students will have the chance to explore the “impact of power and privilege through several Orientation programs.” Perhaps this was one of them.

When introducing themselves, many parents in attendance chose to not only provide their names but also with their Tufts pedigree. The Legacy Reception crowd was largely drawn from the white upper-middle class and shared similar professional and community backgrounds. Many new students found themselves running into classmates from their high schools, and one student in particular discovered that three of the four students from her high school entering Tufts with the Class of 2023 had a legacy connection to the university and were present at the reception.

Searching for the Legacy Reception through Tufts’ online resources is mysteriously tricky, and scant record of the event is available save for the statements of those in attendance. Why would the Tufts administration hold this event, then work so hard to keep it off records visible to the general public? Perhaps it is because, though Tufts emphasizes diversity, the university would prefer to direct energy toward families who grow the endowment directly rather than commit to promoting key resources which fortify an inclusive community.

Legacy preferences in admission to Tufts reinforce systems of bias and favoritism and undermines our deepest-held community values. Although other aspects of a student’s academic and personal background are examined during the admissions process, having a familial relationship to Tufts gives applicants, and eventually students, a leg up.

These relationships exist within an acknowledged and dishonest cycle: If Tufts alumni continue to donate to Tufts, the admissions team will move to consider their children “very closely.” Dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management ad interim Susan Ardizzoni told the Tufts Daily in 2010, when she served as director of undergraduate admissions at the university, that the admissions team “look[s] at parents, primarily,” but also “siblings and then grandparents, for all the professional schools as well as the undergraduate.” 

Ardizzoni described legacy as an important factor in admissions, but seeing that the Tufts Alumni Association registers 110,000 members, it is evident that those who support Tufts financially are given further preference. Once legacy students arrive at Tufts, power and privilege continue to afford them networking opportunities and status in the eyes of the administration.

This kind of fiscal favoritism devalues the diversity Tufts claims to hold in high regard and serves to make affirmative action and financial aid seem like small consolation. Legacy students at Tufts are no more or less qualified for admission than non-legacy students, so why not base a student’s admission simply on their application and not their ancestry?

A decade ago, Ardizzoni made clear that money, or more elegantly “the tradition of support of the university,” can ensure a legacy candidate is considered. Today, wealth and heritage remain a ticket into Tufts University, and the Tufts administration continues to place legacy students in a separate sphere once matriculated. Worse, they seek to bury it, for they know it is wrong.


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