Editor’s note: The 2018–19, 2019–20 and 2020–21 recaps in this article are reprinted from the2020–21 Commencement Issue of the Daily.
The year began with the initial rollout of CoHo, bringing in 45 new beds to campus for juniors and seniors. By the second semester, 39 more beds were added as the second phase rolled out, with the final phase set for the following fall.
The political climate on campus was tense leading up to the midterm elections. On Nov. 1, 2018, less than a week before the midterms, reporters at the Daily discovered posters reading, “It’s ok to be white” around campus, covering get-out-the-vote signs placed by JumboVote. The posters have been linked to white nationalists, including David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.
The ballot questions for that year’s midterm elections were equally important to Tufts, particularly Question 3, which threatened to exclude gender identity from a list of state-held protections. The statewide Yes on 3 campaign, which upheld transgender rights, was campaigned for aggressively on Tufts’ campus, and Question 3 passed in favor of retaining protections based on gender identity.
During the midterm elections, Ayanna Pressley was elected to represent Massachusetts’ 7th District in Congress. Pressley is the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts on the national stage.
During the spring semester, Julián Cancino, the former director of the Latino Center, left Tufts, leaving three of the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion centers without permanent directors. The FIRST Resource Center, aiming to serve first-generation students, opened for its first academic year.
Housing in areas other than CoHo also saw major changes throughout the year. In February, the Office of Residential Life and Learning announced that the SMFA Beacon Street dorms would house only first-years in the coming academic year due to historically large class sizes. Carmichael Hall would house only first-years in the coming year; Harleston Hall would house only sophomores.
In February, Rabbi Naftali Brawer found posters containing anti-Israel messages defacing the Granoff Family Hillel Center. The act was decried as antisemitic and as holding the whole of the Jewish diaspora responsible for the acts of the state of Israel.
Identity-based tensions on campus continued as a message supporting survivors of sexual assault on the cannon was painted over with “Trump 2020” and eggings on campus occurred. One of the victims cited “transmisogyny” as the reason for the egging.
The year also saw rising tensions between dining workers and Tufts, as UNITE HERE Local 26 continued to negotiate for a fair contract. In particular, students and workers held a picket outside of Carmichael Hall, with an attendance of over 800 as students shouted slogans in support of the dining workers. Shortly afterward, the dining workers voted to authorize a strike, which was narrowly avoided when Tufts and the workers reached an agreement on April 29.
The Class of 2022’s second year at Tufts was shaken by a series of developments that again made Tufts the focus of national news, before being cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts Ed Markey and Karl Rove, a former special advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush, were some of the many guests who visited Tufts as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
While impeachment proceedings of U.S. President Donald Trump prevented then-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennett from visiting, fellow candidate Marianne Williamson met with Tufts Democrats in October.
Margot Cardamone became the FIRST Resource Center director after the Office of Student Success and Advising was dissolved in September, and Marvin Casasola was hired as the next Latino Center director.
Early in the fall, the Tufts campus was struck by three consecutive incidents of hate within one month. First, a Jewish student returned to their residence hall on Sept. 15 to discover a swastika affixed to their door; second, a different student found a homophobic slur carved into their door on Oct. 2; third, a sign was defaced at the African American Trail Project exhibit in the Aidekman Arts Center. After the final incident, Monaco announced the formation of two bias response teams to focus on supporting the Tufts community.
The Tufts community also learned in September that Monaco attended a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the previous year, though the university did not disclose it at the time.
Tufts again made headlines in December by deciding to remove the Sackler name from its health sciences campus and programs, and establishing a $3 million endowment focused on substance abuse and addiction prevention and treatment. The university made the decision following the completion of an independent review of its relationship with the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma by former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts David Stern and Attorney Sandy Remz.
Tufts announced on Jan. 2 that for $2 million over 10 years, “Medford/Tufts” would be the name of the new Green Line Extension station under construction at the intersection of Boston Avenue and College Avenue. When completed, the station will be directly adjacent to the Joyce Cummings Center, a new academic building under construction since June 2019 and in planning since 2015.
Spring semester began with Tisch College’s historic move to Barnum Hall from Lincoln-Filene Hall, which also coincided with the beginning of its 20th anniversary celebrations. Barnum Hall had been closed for about a year since extensive renovations began in May 2018 and finished the following summer.
Divestment lobbying made headway in February when the administration appointed members to the Responsible Investment Advisory Group for a review of Tufts’ investments in the fossil fuel industry. The Board of Trustees established the advisory committee four months prior, after nearly seven years of student activism on the issue.
The semester was upended, however, when Monaco announced on March 10 the closure of campus and shift to online classes due to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. Tufts confirmed its first positive case days later while students spontaneously organized financial and material support through Tufts Mutual Aid.
Although classes resumed remotely on March 25, campus buildings were shuttered as many students were forced to return home,some petitioned to remain and others still were quarantined on campus. Students studying abroad as well as exchange students at Tufts all returned home, though some faced great difficulty as travel bans were implemented worldwide.
Dining workers’ hours were cut with most dining locations closed, but they secured an agreement to extend benefits through the end of the semester. Among other academic policy modifications, faculty approved a new and temporary Exceptional Pass/Fail grading system, which was opt-in and would satisfy all academic requirements. The administration reaffirmed its commitment to meeting full demonstrated need in financial aid, despite an expected $15 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year and an estimated $50 million shortfall in the next.
Having initially canceled ceremonies entirely, the administration responded to outrage from many members of the Class of 2020 by promising to hold in-person Commencement when it would again be safe to do so. On May 17, Tufts instead held a virtual all-university degree conferral ceremony.
The class of 2022’s third year began unconventionally, as Tufts’ academics and activities adapted to a hybrid model in adherence with COVID-19 public health guidelines. While Tufts welcomed students back to campus, some opted to either attend classes remotely or take a leave of absence.
Tufts implemented a number of measures to ensure the safety of community members, including routine testing for students, pooled testing that extended to Somerville and Medford residents and the implementation of the Mods, which facilitated the ability to quarantine students who tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts.
Online programming allowed for a robust lineup of speakers through Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Dr. Anthony Fauci, voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and author Ijeoma Oluo were only a few of the speakers to visit Tufts virtually this year.
The Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion was renamed as part of a larger restructuring effort. This change additionally welcomed three new full-time staffing positions.
The year was also marked by student activism and political engagement. Members of the Tufts community marched in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, formed new campus organizations focused on anti-racism and reevaluated the lack of representation in departmental curricula. This came after a summer of protests and a national reckoning with police brutality and white supremacy in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Student organizations also phone-banked, assisted with voter registration and worked at the polls leading up to the presidential election in November.
Shortly after Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election was announced, Tufts faced challenges within its own student government when the Tufts Community Union Judiciary suspended the Senate Executive Board and Elections Commission (ECOM) in November. The Judiciary believed that the Senate Executive Board and ECOM were planning to appoint students to vacant Senate seats — a violation of the TCU Constitution. The Judiciary then revoked its suspension after less than 24 hours, having resolved what had been a miscommunication between the three branches.
TCU also held a special election at the end of November, which included referenda by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine and Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment. Although 42% of the student body voted — the highest turnout for a special election in Tufts’ history — the university announced that it had no plans to take action on either referendum.
Many students left campus early this fall, with Tufts asking those who traveled for Thanksgiving to remain home and complete classes virtually. Students did not return to campus until late January for the spring semester, which began Feb. 1. Most study abroad programs remained suspended and spring break was condensed into a three day weekend, in part due to traveling risks posed by COVID-19.
Tufts and its surrounding communities were affected by multiple acts of hate early in 2021. Many reacted to the insurrection at the Capitol that took place on Jan. 6, as well as the involvement of Jessica Turner, a member of the Somerville Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The university shared the results of an investigation in February regarding a September incident involving Tufts University Police Department’s response to three women of color hanging a mask on the Jumbo statue as part of a university-sponsored effort to promote JumboVote and Healthy@Tufts. The investigation concluded that discrimination did not factor into the incident.
This announcement came only days before two Zoom bombing incidents — one at a diversity, equity and inclusion event — occurred back to back. President Monaco subsequently announced the creation of Bias Education Response Teams in March, which are designed to address the impact of hateful and discriminatory acts, as well as provide support to the community.
The Board of Trustees voted to ban direct investments in 120 coal and tar sands companies, which was announced in a Feb. 10 email to the community. However, many environmental organizations on campus remained unsatisfied with the decision, citing a lack of change in current investments.
President Monaco also shared the recommendations of five workstreams created in July 2020 as part of the university’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution in a Feb. 17 email. The workstreams — Institutional Audit and Targeted Action, Campus Safety and Policing, Public Art, Compositional Diversity and Equity and Inclusion — were composed of faculty, staff and students.
The Class of 2022 played a key role in reforming and restructuring Greek life on campus during its final year. Following discussions prompted by the online account “Abolish Greek Life at Tufts” over the summer, all members of Alpha Phi and the majority of members in Chi Omega disaffiliated from their national chapters, creating local sororities The Ivy and Thalia, respectively. New members were welcomed through virtual recruitment in the spring.
The university announced that it would close the Confucius Institute in March. The decision came after months of weekly protests from the local Tibetan, Uighur and Hong Kong communities.
A record-low 11% of students were offered admission to the Class of 2025, and the accepted students comprise the most ethnically and racially diverse undergraduate class in Tufts history and are part of the first class that applied under the university’s new test-optional policy.
TCU President-elect and rising senior Amma Agyei made history this year as the first Black woman elected to the TCU presidency. Agyei won over rising senior Tim Leong, who served as TCU vice president.
For the second year in a row, the university planned a virtual Senior Week and Commencement, despite concerns voiced by the senior class. Tufts welcomed civil rights lawyer and author Bryan Stevenson to deliver the 2021 Commencement address on May 23.
The Class of 2022’s final year at Tufts saw the return of majority in-person classes, extracurricular activities and study abroad programs, though new variants of COVID-19 left many pandemic guidelines in place, such as masking indoors and routine testing.
To facilitate a return to in-person activities, the university required that all students arrive at Tufts fully vaccinated, assisting international students with vaccinations if they were not yet available in their home countries.
However, not all students were able to live on campus. Approximately 100 first-year students were assigned housing at the Hyatt Place in Medford — a decision meant to temporarily mitigate the longstanding housing crisis at Tufts.
The first week of academic classes was marked by an act of hate. A student reported the removal of a mezuzah — a traditional Jewish symbol — from their doorpost in early September. Later that month, another mezuzah was stolen, and Black Lives Matter posters were found purposefully torn down on campus.
The beginning of the academic year saw a number of changes in leadership, with the arrival of Dayna Cunningham as the new dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Kyongbum Lee as the interim dean of the School of Engineering and Yolanda Smith as executive director of public safety.
Tufts mourned the passing of community members this fall and spring, including students Madie Nicpon ‘23 and Cher Xiong ‘24; Margaret Rose Vendryres, the incoming dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; Danielle Abrams, professor of the practice in the performance department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; and Sheldon Krimsky, the Lenore Stern professor of humanities and social sciences in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.
Tufts students rallied around local campaigns leading up to the 2021 mayoral elections in Medford, Somerville and Boston on Nov. 2. Somerville saw the election of Katjana Ballantyne, its first new mayor in 18 years, while Boston elected Michelle Wu, who is the first woman and first person of color to hold the position in the city’s history.
Students also sought to reverse the university’s proposed discontinuation of the Portuguese program at Tufts — a decision that came without warning to faculty and students teaching and studying Portuguese. Despite their efforts, the program will be discontinued after the 2022–23 academic year.
The university announced its intent to establish an Indigneous student identity center under the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion in November, hiring Vernon Miller as its director in February. In April, the community voted in favor of a referendum proposed by the Tufts Community Union to add an Indigenous community senator seat to its organization.
After years of construction, the Joyce Cummings Center finally opened its doors to students in late November. The six-story building, for which planning began in 2015, houses the Departments of Computer Science, Economics and Mathematics, as well as two Fletcher School programs.
The fall semester was cut slightly short when a December outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19 led the university to move all finals online after Dec. 17. The first three days of the spring semester were held remotely due to high caseloads in January.
In February, President Monaco announced his intent to step down as university president during the summer of 2023, marking the end of what will be a 12-year tenure.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, students rallied to support Ukraine by protesting, compiling resources on the war and putting on a concert to raise money for medical aid to the country.
Tufts saw yet another increase in the number of applications and offered admission to a record-low 9% of applicants to the Class of 2026. To compensate for a lack of housing for these incoming first-year students, the university announced its intent to build temporary, dorm-like structures where The Mods are currently located.
The Working Group on TUPD Arming announced its recommendation thatTUPD alter its arming status to a “hybrid model,” comprising a combination of armed officers and unarmed security professionals, on March 29. This announcement comes a year after five workstreams released report recommendations on how the university can become an anti-racist institution.
The School of Medicine announced plans to open a new Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice on April 8, which aims to address and combat structural racism seen in health care fields.
Tufts held its first in-person Spring Fling since 2019, featuring performances from Tufts student Ella Jane, BIA and Aminé. Senior week also featured in-person events for the first time in three years.
The Class of 2022 will celebrate commencement on May 22, while the Class of 2020 will have an in-person ceremony on May 27. Award-winning scholarErika Lee (A’91) will deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2022, while Neil Blumenthal (LA’02), co-founder and co-CEO of the eyeglasses company Warby Parker, will deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2020.
Robert Kaplan and Austin Clementi contributed reporting to this article.