This week marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic forced students to leave Tufts’ campus last spring. A year with no in-person graduation, a year with no in-person pre-orientation, a year that changed the way we dine, a year that changed the way we go to class, a year that changed the way we connect with the people we care about. And with every day that goes by, it seems less likely that we will ever “return to normal” — any post-pandemic world will be radically different than the one we left behind a year ago. So as we reflect on all that we’ve lost in the past year, we should also take a moment to think about what kind of new “normal” we want to create for the years ahead.
As students, we must respond to times of crisis with compassion in the way we treat others — and ourselves. Every student should be generous with themself after such a trying year, when no one can be faulted for struggling to meet personal, academic or professional goals. Just as importantly, every one of us should extend patience and empathy to the people around us, who have also endured a year of loss and isolation. In the year ahead, as we all emerge from this collective trauma, our ability to recover will depend on our ability to find support and camaraderie in each other.
In addition to changing our relationships with each other, the pandemic has also changed our relationship with technology. One year after necessity forced many of us to download Zoom for the first time, the app is now a staple resource, one that is likely here to stay. Though not without its drawbacks, Zoom has made Tufts’ public events accessible to a wider range of people and has allowed a wide range of guests to come and speak. This accessibility is important, and even once in-person gatherings become more common, it will be important for student groups and the university itself to be technologically flexible, accommodating those whose circumstances make remote attendance easier.
Another lesson that the university in particular should take away from this past year is the importance of accessible mental health services. According to one study, 56% of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder during the pandemic, pointing to just how essential Tufts’ own Counseling and Mental Health Services is on our campus. Tufts must take the initiative to increase funding for Counseling and Mental Health Services; this should include heeding our previous call to redirect funds from the Tufts University Police Department, something that could allow Counseling and Mental Health Services to hire additional clinicians, possibly increase hours and better support students on campus.
The past year has been a year of crisis — not just in mental and physical health, but also in the racism, the financial hardship and the political instability that came to characterize 2020. But going forward, we could all learn from those students and groups who have heeded the call and stood up for their fellow students from the very beginning of this new era. These include the Women’s Center and Asian American Center, which collected perishable and nonperishable goods for students who remained on campus after last March; Tufts Mutual Aid, which set up a food pantry, raised funds for students in need and advocated for students whose requests to remain on campus had been denied; and the FIRST Center, whose Unexpected Hardship Fund, supported by a $50,000 transfer from TCU Senate, paid for flights and UPS storage for low-income students. As we confront new crises in the future, as well as the existing structural inequalities that permeate American society, Tufts students should all aspire to emulate this heroism from the earliest days of the pandemic.
In the year since then, Tufts students have continued to perform their civic duties both on and away from campus. Tufts students joined local and national protests in the Movement for Black Lives across the country last summer, and since then members of the Tufts community have continued to speak out against anti-Black and anti-Asian racism. We must make sure that the “normalcy” we arrive at as the pandemic wanes is not the society we lived in before the pandemic, but one where these forces of hate have no place.
A year of life in a pandemic has also created a virtual wall between Tufts and its host communities, as virus safety measures have left us unable to attend the theaters, festivals and events that we once shared with the people of Medford and Somerville. But as these local communities face continued economic hardship after a year of lockdowns, it is our obligation to extend care to Medford and Somerville by shopping locally, volunteering and donating to pantries and crowdfunding efforts like the Somerville Cares Fund and Medford Aid Mutual and Somerville. Above all, we must continue to abide by virus safety rules during the coming months in order to keep our neighbors safe.
One year after this pandemic first uprooted all of our lives, we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s time to start thinking about what “normal” should look like on the other end. We have the power to sustain a community that is empathetic and compassionate. We have the power to respond to crises, and to root out forces of hate in our midst. We have the power to tear down the barriers that separate Tufts and its host communities. All of these are possible so long as we students push our university administration and our peers to embrace this vision of what Tufts could become.