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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

Cover to cover: The Class of 2024’s four years at Tufts, reviewed

Editor’s note: The 2020–21, 2021–22 and 2022–23 recaps in this article are reprinted from the 2023 Commencement Issue of the Daily, with light edits.

2020–21

The Class of 2024’s first year on the Hill began unconventionally, with Tufts’ academics and activities adapted to a hybrid model in adherence with COVID-19 public health guidelines. While much of the student body was present on-campus through the year, some opted to take classes virtually.

Tufts implemented a number of measures to keep the community healthy, including routine testing for students, pooled testing that extended to Somerville and Medford residents and the creation of The Mods, quarantine housing for 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. Then-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 in the 202021 school 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 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, both of which passed. 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 in fall 2020, 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 were 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. Former University President Anthony 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 divestment in current holdings.

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 2024 arrived on campus in time to witness the monumental reform and restructuring of Greek life on campus as health protocols prevented traditional rush. 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 comprised 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.

Former TCU President Amma Agyei (E‘22) made history in April as the first Black woman elected to the TCU presidency. Agyei won over Tim Leong (LA‘22), 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.

2021–22

The Class of 2024’s second 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, like masking indoors and routine testing.

With the newly relaxed public health protocols, the Class of 2024 was finally able to gather together for its illumination ceremony — the candlelit tradition that normally takes place during the first weeks of new student orientation.

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.

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 in the fall and spring, including students Madie Nicpon ‘23 and Cher Xiong ‘24; Margaret Rose Vendryres, who was the incoming dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; Danielle Abrams, professor of the practice in the performance department at the SMFA; 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.

The university announced its intent to establish an Indigenous 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, and is regularly used to host large-scale student gatherings.

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, Monaco announced his intent to step down as university president during the summer of 2023, marking the end of a 12-year tenure. Tufts later announced that Sunil Kumar, formerly of Johns Hopkins, would move into Gifford House and take the reins of the presidency from Monaco.

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 9.7% 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 in place of The Mods on the tennis courts on Professors Row.

The Working Group on TUPD Arming announced its recommendation on March 29 that TUPD alter its arming status to a “hybrid model,” comprising a combination of armed officers and unarmed security professionals. This announcement came 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. The center works to address and combat structural racism experienced in health care fields.

The Class of 2024 finally got to experience Spring Fling — Tufts’ first 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 celebrated Commencement on May 22, while the Class of 2020 had an in-person ceremony on May 27. Award-winning scholar Erika Lee (LA‘91) delivered the commencement address for the Class of 2022, while Neil Blumenthal (LA‘02), co-founder and co-CEO of the eyeglasses company Warby Parker, delivered the commencement address for the Class of 2020.

2022–23

Students returned to campus in fall 2022 without COVID-19 as a major concern for most community members. Mask mandates were nixed and testing requirements abandoned as, for the first time since the Class of 2024 matriculated, students were able to gather without the looming possibility of a school-mandated, multiday isolation.

To that end, the university eliminated the units of modular quarantine housing that for two years sat atop the varsity tennis team’s former home, replacing them with an archipelago of first-year housing stock. The modular-style dorms, which accommodate 150 first-years, were branded as “The Court at Professors Row.” As the university plows forward in its plan to grow enrollment, The Court will remain a standard among other, more traditional first-year living arrangements — but likely only until 2025, when the university is projected to finish construction of a multi-story residence hall on Boston Avenue.

The campus’ expansion was a major theme during the Class of 2023’s time at Tufts.

Following years of construction and myriad delays, the MBTA’s Green Line Extension opened its doors on the final day of classes in December. Dozens of students packed the station before dawn to get a seat on the first train as it rolled toward East Somerville and into downtown Boston. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey — plus former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — headlined the station’s long-awaited ribbon-cutting ceremony later that morning, in a celebration largely symbolic of the university’s geographic expansion over the last decade.

Tufts also broke ground on — and later opened — a new baseball field named after former provost and professor emeritus Sol Gittleman. Renovations are also underway at Eaton Hall, the historic quad-facing academic building that most recently housed departments like religion, sociology and anthropology.

The Class of 2024’s third year was also marked by a string of racist and antisemitic incidents in a pattern that has grown familiar to the community. A club sports team was suspended and faced with an investigation by the university after some of its members were allegedly involved in an antisemitic incident at a competition off campus. And in April, racial slurs sent via a chat box on Zoom interrupted a Solomont Speaker series event with the rapper Dee-1. Monaco condemned both incidents and reiterated the university’s commitment to anti-racism and the fight against antisemitism.

Attacks against Tufts’ work to fight racism continued during finals week in the fall, when seven bomb threats were sent to a flurry of university departments from an unknown emailer over the course of nine days. The threats, listing “anti white racism” as one motivator, prompted evacuations from residence halls, the Campus Center, Dowling Hall and a spate of academic buildings, pushing finals online.

Tufts’ upper leadership faced criticism this year after a pair of Daily investigations uncovered a series of high-level departures and a culture in two administrative departments that former staffers described as toxic. The diversity office opened the academic year with a third of its positions empty after two of its chief officers quietly departed in August. Their departures followed a restructuring in the provost’s office — which oversees the university’s diversity work — and an alleged consolidation of administrative power.

The admissions office, too, was reported to be under investigation by an outside law firm following current and former staffer allegations of racist and antisemitic behavior on the part of the dean, JT Duck. The investigation came as the attack on affirmative action reached the Supreme Court and as the university pledged its support for Harvard and the University of North Carolina in their ongoing legal battle against the group Students for Fair Admissions. Deans Glaser and Lee of the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering later shared that a thorough internal investigation into the Tufts admissions office found no evidence of discrimination by Duck.

Tufts resident assistants announced their intention to unionize in November. After the administration declined to voluntarily recognize the United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants, RAs voted 99–3 with 72% turnout to form a union. ULTRA engaged in negotiations with the university over the course of the spring semester, but would not ink a contract until the following year.

It was another record-breaking year for undergraduate admissions, when Tufts delivered offers to 9.5% of applicants to the Class of 2027, the lowest acceptance rate on record. The pool was historically diverse and represented nearly a 50% spike in applications from 2020, when the Class of 2024 was admitted.

Also in the 202223 school year, Kyongbum Lee became the dean of the engineering school, Scheri Fultineer took the helm of the SMFA and Howard Woolf announced his retirement as ExCollege dean following 40 years in the office.

Spring Fling was headlined last year by the 2010s pop sensation Flo Rida, who arrived more than an hour late and after many students had already left the annual music festival. Flo Rida was preceded on stage by the DJ trio Cheat Codes, TikTok music star Charlie Curtis-Beard and the Tufts student band Fease.

The performances came a day after the Class of 2024’s Arielle Galinsky, the TCU Senate vice president, declared victory in the race for TCU Senate president. She succeeded Jaden Pena (LA‘23).

The final weeks of the Class of 2024’s junior year were marked by an end to the national COVID-19 emergency — and to the university’s vaccination requirement. The move represented the elimination of the last of Tufts’ major COVID-19 mitigation policies, which defined much of the graduating class’s tenure at Tufts.

At the 2023 Commencement ceremony — Monaco’s last as university president — United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed delivered the keynote address. Mohammed is known for her work fighting climate change.

Monaco passed the presidential baton to Sunil Kumar on July 1, 2023. Kumar is Tufts’ 14th president and the first person of color to fill the position. Before coming to Tufts, he served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University following stints at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

2023–24

The Class of 2024’s final year began with a flurry of union organizing on campus. Amid contract negotiations with Tufts, the newly unionized undergraduate resident assistants went on strike on first-year move-in day to demand that Tufts pay them a stipend. Weeks later, Tufts agreed to compensate the RAs with 80 meal swipes and a $1,425 stipend each semester.

On Sept. 25, the union voted by an overwhelming majority to sign its inaugural contract with the university. The contract represents the culmination of seven months of negotiations and will be valid for three years.

Tufts Dining workers, represented by the labor union UNITE HERE Local 26, also won a major collective bargaining victory at the start of the school year. In September, they signed a new contract with Tufts guaranteeing them a $9.92 increase to hourly wages to be rolled out over the next 4 ½ years.

Unionized SMFA part-time lecturers reopened contract negotiations with Tufts in the fall, calling for pay parity with part-time lecturers in the School of Arts and Sciences. SMFA Dean Sheri Fultineer announced in October that those negotiations had concluded, without disclosing the terms.

Graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences also raised their voices to demand higher pay and better benefits. Represented by Service Employees International Union Local 509, the grad students entered negotiations over — and subsequently signed — their next five-year contract. They staged a walkout at University President Sunil Kumar’s Oct. 6 inauguration ceremony to draw attention to their cause.

The Tufts community reacted with shock and grief to Hamas’ deadly attack on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. As Israel began a brutal campaign of bombing and ground invasions of Gaza, students staged a series of protests, walkouts, sit-ins and die-ins to call attention to the mass killings of Palestinians.

At one protest outside Ballou Hall on Nov. 17, students alleged that TUPD officers physically and verbally harassed them and made them feel unsafe. The protest ended with 18 students facing disciplinary violations and one losing their study abroad privileges for blocking the doors to Ballou in violation of university policy.

Eleven student groups founded the Coalition for Palestinian Liberation at Tufts to call for an immediate ceasefire, now totaling over 40 member organizations. The coalition also demanded that Kumar condemn the genocide in Gaza and that Tufts divest from Israel and end all partnerships with Israeli institutions.

In a series of messages to the university community, Kumar denounced the Hamas-led terrorist attacks, mourned the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza and condemned all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia. He affirmed students’ right to protest but cautioned that “disruption cannot take the place of dialogue.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jodi Kantor, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell and Congressman Maxwell Frost were among the civic life leaders invited to campus for Tisch College’s fall Solomont Speaker Series.

Tisch College also welcomed hip-hop artist and activist David Augustine, known as Dee-1, as its inaugural Artist/Scholar-in-Residence. In spring 2024, Augustine taught a course about the intersection of hip hop and social change.

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James M. Glaser announced in December he will depart Tufts this summer after 33 years. Glaser joined the Department of Political Science in 1991 and has served as dean since 2014. Bárbara Brizuela, dean of the A&S graduate school, will be the interim dean while the university searches for Glaser's replacement.

Pro-Palestinian activism continued into the spring semester as the Israel-Hamas war passed the 100-day mark and the death toll mounted. Calls for a ceasefire extended into Tufts’ host communities, with the Somerville and Medford city councils both passing ceasefire resolutions in February.

In March, the TCU Senate passed three resolutions proposed by CPLT calling on Kumar to recognize the genocide in Gaza, for the university to divest from Israeli companies and for it to stop selling Sabra products. A fourth resolution pressing the university to end approval for study abroad programs at universities in Israel did not pass. About 300 students came to the meeting to speak in favor of and against the resolutions. Afterward, students reported antisemitic, Islamophobic and anti-Arab remarks and actions made by their peers during the meeting.

Less than 12 hours after the vote, Kumar condemned the resolutions and said that Tufts will maintain all of its business and academic relationships with Israeli institutions.

Later in the month, a group of Tufts students participated in the first-ever Jumbo Spring Break — a five-day program with a civic engagement and community service focus. The students volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Malden and met with Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn, among other activities.

Tufts accepted 10% of applicants to the Class of 2028, a slight increase from last year. It was the fourth year of Tufts’ six-year test-optional pilot program, and 60% of accepted students submitted test scores with their applications.

The Daily reported that the sticker price for the incoming class will surpass $92,000, a record-breaking figure that includes tuition, housing and personal expenses like textbooks. Tufts will continue to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need, and the university has earmarked more than $125 million for undergraduate financial aid in the 2025 fiscal year, representing a 4.7% increase from this past fiscal year.

On April 8 — one of the first truly sunny and warm days of the spring semester — hundreds of students gathered on President’s Lawn to admire the partial solar eclipse through protective glasses and makeshift pinhole cameras. Many others traveled north to experience totality.

Jordin Sparks headlined the Class of 2024’s final Spring Fling on April 20 with openers Tkay Maidza, Iyaz and student band Sunnydaze.

The 202425 TCU presidential election was a tight three-way contest between juniors Krystal Mutebi, Joel Omolade and Mikayla Paquette. Omolade was temporarily disqualified from the race by the Elections Commission for alleged campaign misconduct, but the TCU Judiciary quickly reversed the decision and allowed him to resume his campaign. Omolade ultimately won the presidency with 54% of the vote. Fellow Class of 2025 senator Nessren Ourdyl will serve as vice president.

Tufts students set up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on the Academic Quad in April, part of a nationwide surge in pro-Palestinian student activism. Universities around the country drew scrutiny for forcefully cracking down on their protesters and, in many cases, calling in the police to make arrests. Meanwhile at Tufts, under a no trespass warning and threats of suspension, the protesters deconstructed their encampment and left voluntarily on May 3. They did not offer a public explanation for why the encampment came down, but said they had not negotiated an agreement with the university.

Professors of the practice of the SMFA, capping off a year of union activity, began negotiations for a new collective contract with the university on April 24. If negotiations are successful, SMFA’s professors of the practice will join Tufts’ dining workers and resident assistants in securing higher working standards during the 2023–24 academic year.

Senior Saffiyah Coker won the Wendell Phillips Award and will deliver an address to the senior class at Saturday’s Baccalaureate Ceremony.

Fiona Hill will deliver the Commencement address on Sunday. Hill is the chancellor of Durham University and a former adviser to three U.S. presidents, specializing in Russian and European affairs.

Rebecca Barker, Robert Kaplan and Ethan Steinberg contributed to this article.

Photos:
1. The Mods, COVID-19 quarantine housing, are pictured on Oct. 25, 2020. (Nicole Garay)
2. Students attend the Student Resources Fair at the recently opened Joyce Cummings Center on April 6, 2022. (Quan Tran)
3. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then-University President Anthony Monaco inaugurate the Medford/Tufts station on Dec 12, 2022. (Aaron Gruen)

4 .Over 300 Tufts students, faculty and local residents march in solidarity with Gaza on April 26. (Matthew Sage)