Over the summer, Tufts University reinstated its in-person touring program, which had been conducted virtually since summer 2020. The program is now offering in-person, virtual and self-guided tour options throughout the fall semester.
In-person tours started in July through an internship offered by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. There was a cohort of 17 guides this summer.
The return of in-person tours follows two changes that have been made to the program over the past year. One of these changes is that the tour guide position is now paid, an initiative from fall 2020.
“We decided to start compensating our tour guides as a means to expand access to the position; students no longer have to choose between spending those hours at a job versus volunteering as a guide,” Lauren Wilkes, associate director of undergraduate admissions, wrote in an email to the Daily. “We are hoping this will allow our tour guide cohort to better reflect the Tufts student community as a whole.”
The other change is that the tours now include an Indigenous land acknowledgement, an initiative that also began in fall 2020. Guides must now acknowledge during the tour that the Tufts campus resides on the ancestral homelands of the Wampanoag and Massachusett tribes.
“All tour guides are expected to provide a land acknowledgment at some point during their tour, typically in the introduction when we are framing where our campus is located and Tufts’ history,” Wilkes said. “Our team thought it was important to not only acknowledge when and where Tufts was founded, but also that the land was inhabited and cultivated by Indigenous groups far before this campus came into existence.”
Wilkes explained that tour guides are guided on what to say, though they may frame the statement in their own words.
“Tour guides are able to provide this land acknowledgment in their own wording, and during our training we provided a few examples of how one might do so," Wilkes said. "The training highlighted Indigenous voices of the area through different media, and revolved around discussion and reflection of why this was important."
Junior Dameli Utembayeva, who was a tour guide this summer, explained that over the summer, tour guides watched a 15-minute presentation about the Indigenous communities whose land comprises not only the Tufts campus but the surrounding territory.
In addition to those two changes, the in-person tour program will look different this year due to alterations made to restrict the spread of COVID-19.
During an in-person tour, campus visitors must complete the COVID-19 screening survey and show proof of vaccination at check-in.
Over the summer, each tour session was broken up into groups of up to 15 people. Current tour guide, junior Emma Sonnenblick, noted that in order to maintain these numbers, Tufts has ceased to allow visitors to choose which tour guide to go with at the start of a touring session because they wouldn't distribute evenly.
“We used to do it [so] that you [could] pick your own tour guide," Sonnenblick said. "[The admissions office] really liked the fact that prospective students could connect with a specific person."
She added that to further ensure that each touring group is capped at a certain number, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions gave each touring visitor a wristband that denoted their designated tour group.
Utembayeva explained that a lot of the families of prospective students were frustrated with the small tour group sizes.
“A lot of people would call us and be like, ‘Hey I couldn't book the info session or the tour, can I hop on now?’ and since we want to follow all the COVID restrictions, we obviously couldn’t [allow that], but there was always an option to do a self-guided tour,” Utembayeva said.
The self-guided tours involve scanning different QR codes around campus and listening to a recording of a student who explains each stop.
Although in-person and self-guided tours are intended to occur throughout the semester, there is a plan to transition back to a virtual format if cases rise too much. If this occurs, the format of Tufts tours would look similar to how they were conducted over the past year, which involved guided tours over Zoom.
Junior Kenny Lin, a current tour guide, gave tours virtually last year. Lin said that student tour guides conducted the virtual tours in pairs. He noted that giving tours through this format had its challenges.
“The tour itself was just a slideshow of Tufts pretty much," Lin said. "We would be … pretending we were walking through campus. Honestly, it’s hard to find the energy when you’re just sitting in your dorm room by yourself, talking to a Zoom meeting where no one else can talk to you."
Despite the challenges of a virtual format, first-year Rory McGrath said she found her virtual tour last year helpful in making the decision to go to Tufts.
“I actually felt like it was pretty helpful because it did make the campus look really nice … I remember little tidbits from the [tour guides]," McGrath said. "I remember one of them saying something about a strawberry festival or something … there were just little things like that that I thought added character to the tour."
One challenge caused by COVID-19 that impacts both virtual and in-person tours is the fact that the last two years provided such an unusual college experience for students, with virtual classes, social distancing requirements and take-out dining halls.
Sonnenblick mentioned that many of the experiences she shares on tours were from her first year.
“Most of my stories about classes are from freshman year because last year most of them were virtual,” Sonnenblick said. “But I think that the examples are still valid and I think that sometimes the visitors are more interested in what freshman year looks like anyways.”
Nonetheless, the return of in-person tours allows prospective students to experience what, for many, was a pivotal piece of their college application process.
Lin recalls that when he was a prospective student, his tour helped affirm that Tufts was a good fit.
“I still remember the guide … he was actually a senior last year, I think,” Lin said. “I remember coming here and just walking around the campus, hearing the guide, just kind of seeing a few people walking around, I felt like I could be a student here.”