Strengthening the Student Experience
Ask any undergraduate what they enjoy most about Tufts, and chances are they will say other students. It makes sense. Students spend most of their time both inside and outside of the classroom with fellow students. In addition to academic and residential life, they are engaged in varsity athletics and club sports, myriad student organizations, special-interest housing, and Greek life chapters. Those connections are vital to feeling part of a larger Tufts community.
Creating a strong university community is not an exact science. Yet it is crucial that we try to understand what drives success. We take pride in describing Tufts as a student-centered research university, but developing the programs and services to support a vibrant co-curricular experience requires a deep understanding of the big picture of student life. We also know that some aspects of student behavior on college campuses can foster an unhealthy climate when left unchecked.
That is why last December I established the Student Life Review Committee, which was charged with conducting a comprehensive assessment of undergraduate student life and developing recommendations that promote a healthy, robust, inclusive, and holistic environment for students. We drew on extraordinary expertise for our inquiry: The chair was Susan Murphy, vice president emerita of Student and Academic Services at Cornell. Vice chairs were trustees Deb Jospin, J80, A14P, and Dan Doherty III, H03. The committee included faculty, students, staff, alumni, and representatives of our host communities of Medford and Somerville, and it received input from more than a thousand members of the wider Tufts community.
In September, the committee released its findings and recommendations. The report focused on the social issues our students face, and looked at safety and well-being, diversity and inclusion, campus-wide community, first-year and residential experiences, Greek life, and social spaces. I am pleased that the committee’s findings have already informed important changes.
In a major restructuring, most entering first-years are living together in residence halls with residential advisors specifically trained to support them. To set the stage for a more cohesive first-year experience, we also rethought orientation, grouping incoming students in cohorts according to their first-year residence halls.
And because students expressed a need for more spaces for social events, meetings, and performances, we have this fall developed a new multipurpose room on the first floor of Curtis Hall and put in place new processes for booking space in many residence halls.
Meanwhile, the committee wisely developed short- and long-term goals in response to the recent debate about fraternity and sorority life. As just one example, Tufts has joined the Hazing Prevention Consortium, which utilizes evidence-based strategies to help replace hazing with positive leadership and group development. Looking ahead, over the next three years we will evaluate changes in Greek life on campus to understand how it contributes to the student experience and aligns with the university’s values.
Even with this progress, our work is just beginning. Mary Pat McMahon, dean of Student Affairs for the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, and her colleagues are making inclusion and engagement priorities. We are also committed to strengthening support for underrepresented students, while Provost David Harris and his colleagues are now at work to develop the Bridging Differences initiative (go.tufts.edu/bridgingdifferences) to facilitate respectful disagreement and dialogue.
I encourage you to learn more about the committee and its findings and recommendations, which are available at go.tufts.edu/studentlifecommittee. An enhanced co-curricular experience is an essential complement to our superb academic programs. I am optimistic that we are on the path to achieving a more holistic and enduring sense of community for all our students.
Anthony P. Monaco
President, Tufts University