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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, February 25, 2024

Missed connections: The separation between graduate and undergraduate life at Tufts

Walking in the streets of Tufts’ Medford campus, you may hear undergraduate students chattering about the latest IR midterm, frat party stories and housing lotteries. But have you run into any graduate students in your daily socials, club meetings and pickup sports? About 49% of the student population at Tufts consists of graduate students, with about 30% studying on Medford campus through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and the Fletcher School. However, the undergraduate population at Tufts rarely interacts with this significant portion of the campus community outside of class, whether it be in club meetings, at sporting events or at social gatherings. My peers and I often wondered what graduate students might be doing after their classes if not participating in the activities most undergrads associate with the traditional Tufts experience. There, instead, seems to exist an unrecognized problem brewing in the undercurrents among graduate student life — their lack of an on-campus presence in major academic organizations and culture clubs.

Lei Mao, a graduate student studying software system development in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, spends most of his spare time working at Tufts’ Human-Computer Interaction Lab. His busy schedule is one of the reasons that he feels removed from the social scene on campus. Mao said he has too much school work to join student organizations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

Mao did, however, praise the computer science department for organizing weekly department meetings. He also mentioned that there is a Slack for graduate students in the computer science department where students are given the chance to interact online.

First-year Master of Computer Science student Nisitaa Clement agreed that there is a deficit in graduate student social life.

“The computer science department is making an effort to host socializing events, but those just started a few weeks ago,” Clement said.

Clement, who also works at the front desk of the graduate student lounge in Curtis Hall,expressed disappointment at the lack of student presence and engagement in this space.

Both Mao and Clement said that many of these resources were only recently established or are largely inactive.

Many graduate students rely on their department to organize social and networking events. The Graduate Student Council also hosts bonding events occasionally. The council organized events including apple picking and a treasure hunt.

Vinit Varu, a first-year engineering management student at the Tufts Gordon Institute, enjoyed the few council events he attended. Despite this, Varu felt that the events did not foster a sense of community.

“It didn’t promote connecting with other students, as people formed their own bubbles of 2-4 with people they already knew,” Varu wrote in an email to the Daily. “I am sure that many people didn’t consider going … because they had no one they knew going. I myself have skipped events due to that.”

Ultimately, these bonding events worked best for short-term connections and existing friend groups, but were not conducive to longer relationships and new friendships.

Due to the way these bonding activities are run, graduate students who have just arrived on campus at the start of semester may be forced to resort to their own network and connections to make friends on campus, which can feel impossible without a pre-existing network or enough opportunities to meet new people.

If graduates were able to easily participate in ‘undergraduate’ organizations, these barriers may feel less daunting. However, these options seem almost impossible to students like Varu.

“I had tried reaching out to [student organizations]. It was so difficult to find them … in the first place, but also having no response from them was a blow to my mind,” Varu wrote.  “Some [student organizations] even restricted Grad students from joining or just made us feel excluded from the undergrad crowding.”

Clement's roommate applied to be an Eco Rep, but her application was eventually turned down due to her status as a graduate student. Since few on campus organizations are welcoming to graduate students, campus life proves to be sorely lacking for this part of the Tufts community.

It is understandable for certain student organizations on campus to deny graduate students leadership positions in the name of fairness due to the discrepancy in experience they have when compared to undergraduate students. However, in light of the clear deficiencies in graduate student life, student organizations need to do more to create spaces for the graduate community. Organizations like the Graduate Student Council should also consider hosting more social events that accommodate students’ busy schedules.

It is equally as important to foster a close-knit community among graduate students as it is for undergraduates. The Tufts students and administrators are both responsible for creating a welcoming environment for students at any level of their education, whether it be through student organizations or university-sponsored spaces and events for students to connect with their peers and find respite from their stressful academic schedules.