There’s a housing crisis at Tufts. This is, of course, nothing new; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this problem, forcing first-year students to live over a mile drive from campus, exacerbating unpredictabilities for sophomores preparing to lose guaranteed housing as juniors and creating uncertainties for those stuck with leases and planning to go abroad. There are three factors we discuss below that contribute to a pressing anxiety among the student body, all interconnected and centered around a basic human necessity: shelter.
The first is the general housing shortage. It is no secret that Tufts has fewer beds to offer than those needed to accommodate all students who want or need on-campus housing — this issue has been addressed at length in the Daily. Over-enrollment for the Class of 2025 coupled with an already strained housing system meant that Tufts simply did not have enough beds to house students.
To the disgruntlement of many tenants, this year, the Tufts Office of Residential Life and Learning placed approximately 100 first-year students in rooms at the Hyatt Place in Medford, as Tufts lacked enough space for first-year students in residential halls on the Medford-Somerville campus.
Senior Director of Residential Life and Learning Josh Hartman wrote in an email to the Daily that, “while it’s impossible to predict what might happen next year, it’s important to note that using hotel space to house students is an extremely rare occurrence at Tufts.”
Given the unpredictability brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we simply request that Tufts continue to offer additional support services and accommodations to Tufts students housed at the Hyatt, and we hope that this unsustainable hotel housing does not occur ever again.
Now, we focus on two pressing problems to which Tufts has not offered as many accommodations to help.
First, we discuss an issue that most non-first-year students have experienced or are currently experiencing: the scramble to find housing for junior or senior year, which often takes place before students find out if they are guaranteed on-campus housing in December.
This is an issue of transparency between frantic and stressed students and Residential Life. When upperclassmen are deciding between on-campus and off-campus housing, both options seem tenuous. Many rising juniors and seniors sign leases in the fall, some as early as September, which is far before lottery numbers come out and students can know if the campus has space to house them. Additionally, Residential Life fails to communicate exactly how many beds are available for upperclassmen, who are not guaranteed housing. Students receive their lottery numbers in mid-December, but because group formation does not take place until March, students on Tufts’ housing waitlist are left in limbo for many months, while other students continue to sign off-campus leases.
Hartman said that students should “avoid signing leases too early and instead sign leases between March and June, which enables them to compare prices, get better terms, and save money.” However, the reality is that students who wait to sign leases until the spring, including those whom the university cannot house, face uncertainties and the possibility of social exclusion as they risk being shut out from housing groups. Further, as many students prefer to live in houses closer to campus, students who wait to sign a lease may find that their first choice options or houses closer to campus are filled. To resolve this issue, Residential Life should communicate more to students about when they will hear back about their lottery numbers and what they should do in the interim.
As a result of uncertainties brought on by the pandemic compounded by pre-existing housing issues, a new crisis has emerged. Those familiar with Tufts’ class pages on Facebook are well aware that there is a desperate rush to find subletters for students going abroad this spring. This is largely caused by the unusual discrepancy in the number of students studying abroad in the spring rather than the fall. In an email to the Daily, Associate Dean and Senior Director of Study Abroad and Global Education Mala Ghosh noted that Tufts Global Education Enrollment was highly skewed. According to Ghosh, 44 students studied abroad this fall compared to an expected 255 students studying abroad in spring 2022, not including 36 students studying abroad for the entire year. This imbalance was exacerbated by Tufts’ decision to suspend certain study abroad programs for the fall 2021 semester.
As a result, there is a discrepancy in the subletting market that is forcing many juniors to make a difficult choice: study abroad and pay for an empty room here, or not go abroad at all. For some students, this will be simply an inconvenient expense. But for students from lower-income brackets, already potentially facing social isolation due to Tufts’ disproportionately wealthy student body, simultaneously paying for rent here and housing accomodations abroad is a financial impossibility.
Tufts prides itself on its global education. According to Tufts Admissions’s study abroad webpage, Tufts believes “that an education should allow students to engage with the world”; to support this claim, the university must do more to ensure this experience is available to all students regardless of financial status.
When asked about this issue, Hartman stated that “Although the University cannot offer increased financial aid grants to cover the cost of off campus rent while abroad, students who experience financial hardship for any reason, including this one, should contact their financial aid counselor about their options, such as the possibility of additional student loan eligibility to help with the unanticipated expenses.”
Tufts bears some of the fault for this situation. First, Tufts has been experiencing a housing crisis that — in addition to leaving around 100 first-year students at the Hyatt — has consistently forced most juniors and seniors off campus. While the consequences of this issue can be reduced through greater transparency from administration and Residential Life, the pressing issue facing students planning to study abroad this spring — the inability to find a subletter — is dire, and was partially caused by Tufts’ housing and study abroad policies. As such, Tufts must take steps to remove this burden facing students eager to obtain a global education.
To assist students going abroad, we demand the university communicate immediately with all students intending to study abroad this spring to note that, if they have tried but are unable to find a subletter, they should reach out to their financial aid officer. By doing so, Tufts would ensure equity in the study abroad process and could mitigate the effects of longstanding, problematic housing policies which are slowly being resolved.