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TUFTS OBSERVER TENSION

ISSUE 4

VOLUME CXLI


LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

LOVE LETTERS

BY MYISHA MAJUMDER

POETRY • BY KATE BOWERS

DEDICATED TO DIVESTMENT

BODY MANIFESTO

FEATURE • BY SONYA BHATIA AND AMANDA WESTLAKE

A TRYING TIME

CAMPUS • BY AROHA MACKAY

PUTTING JUMBOS FIRST

OPINION • BY SHARIF HAMIDI

BLENDING FICTION WITH REALITY

ARTS & CULTURE • BY MELANIE LITWIN

FRACTURES IN THE SKY NEWS • BY YUMEI LIN

DAWN IS A FEELING

CREATIVE INSET • BY ERICA LEVY

POETRY • BY CAROLINE BLANTON

ZOOM ROOMS: MAKE IT OR BREAK IT

ARTS & CULTURE • BY MEERA ROHERA

VAMOS DAR AS CARAS! (LET’S SHOW UP!)

OPINION • BY SOPHIA COSTA

BATTLE FOR THE BALLOT

NEWS • BY SABAH LOKHANDWALA

YOU AND I

VOICES • BY RABIYA ISMAIL

LOVE AT FIRST ZOOM

CAMPUS • BY UNNATHY NELLUTLA

MISSED CONNECTION

VOICES • BY AKBOTA SAUDABAYEVA

2 TUFTS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 28, 2020


STAFF

TENSION

EDITOR IN CHIEF: Myisha Majumder

ART DIRECTOR: Laura Wolfe

MANAGING EDITOR: Akbota Saudabayeva

LEAD ARTIST: Kelly Tan

CREATIVE DIRECTORS: Brigid Cawley Richard Nakatsuka

LEAD COPY EDITOR: Brittany Regas

FEATURE EDITORS: Evan Sciancalepore Cana Tagawa NEWS EDITORS: Caroline Blanton Anita Lam ARTS & CULTURE EDITORS: Wyoma Chudasama OPINION EDITORS: Mira Dwyer Mahika Khosla CAMPUS EDITORS: Melanie Litwin Josie Wagner POETRY & PROSE EDITOR: Alice Hickson VOICES EDITORS: Rachel Dong Ryan Kim CREATIVE INSET EDITOR: Erica Levy COLUMN EDITORS: Gloria Revanche Juliana Vega del Castillo

MULTIMEDIA DIRECTORS: Madeleine Oh Esther Tzau PODCAST DIRECTOR: Ethan Lipson PUBLICITY DIRECTORS: Paula Gil Ordoñez-Gomez Eve Ogdon STAFF WRITERS: Sonya Bhatia Rabiya Ismail Sabah Lokhandwala Aroha Mackay Issay Matsumoto Unnathy Nellutla Myles Platt Lee Romaker Siddhant Talwar Amanda Westlake COPY EDITORS: Claudia Aibel Chloe Courtney-Bohl Grace van Deelen Mahdi Ibrahim Unnathy Nellutla Ethan Yan

Medford heat like an eternal hand on my thigh. A triple-paced heartbeat. That fear that if you think a thought too loudly then it might come true. When all your dreams and wishes crawl out of the careful corners of your mind. I like that. As in, I like the way you smell. I like the way you look at me. My locked-eye lover, the air between us is criminal. Touch me here, and there, and—no more words now.

DESIGNERS: Evelyn Abramowitz Kate Bowers Janie Ingrassia Joanna Kleszczewski Camille Shimshak Brenna Trollinger Sofia Pretell

CONTRIBUTORS: Aidan Chang Sophia Costa Sharif Hamidi Michelle Li Yumei Lin Patrick Milewski Meera Rohera

COLUMNISTS: Sabrina Cabarcos Samantha Park Juliette Wu MULTIMEDIA: Florence Almeda Ben Bortner Alex Liu Mijael Maratuech Seminario Unnathy Nellutla Justin Wang Silvia Wang

EDITOR EMERITUS: Owen Cheung

DESIGN BY AND JOHN PHOTO DOE, BYART BRIGID BY JANE CAWLEY. DOE COVER DESIGN BY RICHARD NAKATSUKA, COVER PHOTOS BY RICHARD NAKATSUKA AND SOFIA28,PRETELL SEPTEMBER 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER

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LEDITOR

letter from the editor

Unprecedented times have become a depressing new sense of normal, but one of the few acts of normalcy I committed to this semester was the Observer. Yes, it was hunched over my laptop with flaring tendinitis in my bedroom. And yes, two out of the four issues were spent in quarantine to be with my family. But to a degree, it was normal. I’ve written a lot for this magazine—at least one or two pieces every semester—and I expected that going into my first year here at Tufts. But I didn’t expect the hours laboring over sentence structure, identifying cohesive narratives, and finding my new favorite words in “lede.” “em dash.” and “graf.” As a writer, you can find your own voice—but as an editor, you’re helping others find their voices, an act so distinctly gratifying that it can fill your heart with fuel for weeks at a time. Now, I didn’t expect for that sensation to be amplified tenfold as Editor-in-Chief. Feelings of joy in the past seemed fleeting, but during this semester, I clung onto them as much as I could and buried them into my skin. And to be candid, I suffered more than I could imagine this semester: I went through cycles of post-grad life crises, I watched my relatives suffer from COVID-19 while oceans away, I switched my gaze from laptop screen to a muted TV with CNN live election updates, and I clicked on my family chat every two minutes to see if there was an update about my hospitalized grandmother. But through these moments, I also refreshed Slack routinely and tried to check in with all 60+ of you whenever I could. The Observer truly became a virtual home, somewhere to create content for our campus and give voices to those cast aside. Bota became a trusted confidante, as she replaced Owen on Siri’s suggestions for who I should text at various hours of the day. We deliberated not only over the pronunciation of the word “libel,” but also over balancing our hectic lives with the very pulse and heart of the Observer: our lovely staff. Trying to form one-on-one relationships, oftentimes with people I had only really seen over the computer screen or in passing in person, proved to be difficult, but for all of you, I hope you know that I love you and I’m proud of you. I take pride in the content produced by the Observer this semester and in our ability to surpass the virtual boundaries and limitations put on us to continue to uplift others, and my heart is heavy as I sign off my final issue. To my managing board, Bota, Richie, and Brigid, I long for a time where the four of us can be in the same room together, unmasked, and hugging, because we did it. To my staff, thank you for hanging in there with me through this journey. And to the Tufts community, I hope you were able to take a chance on yourself because of a piece in this magazine, or learn something new about the world around you. The Observer is a magazine of record, and this semester’s issues will be a home for our future generations to return to when they wonder: what were they thinking about in 2020, and what were they doing about it? With love, Myisha Majumder Editor-in-Chief

2 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

DESIGN BY RICHARD NAKATSUKA, ART BY KELLY TAN AND ERICA LEVY


FEATURE

DEDICATED TO DIVESTMENT

STUDENT ACTIVISTS PROPOSE REFERENDA TO PUT PRESSURE ON ADMINISTRATION By Sonya Bhatia and Amanda Westlake

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wo student activist groups, Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment (TREE) and Tufts Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP), have been collectively campaigning against the oppression of BIPOC by Tufts, focusing specifically on the institution’s financial involvement with the prison industrial complex (PIC). Anthony Davis-Pait, a member of both SJP and TREE, emphasized the organizations’ similar stakes: “When you can recognize the ways in which these oppressive systems exploit a lot of people within our population, you should all stand in solidarity with one another.” Ava Dimond, member of SJP, elaborated on the shared belief systems of the two organizations. “Police, prisons, and the military don’t really have a place in our community and shouldn’t be a place from which the community derives monetary or also ideological value,” she said. TREE seeks to use divestment as a strategic tool against Tufts’ complicity in the PIC and stated in their referendum: “Do you support the Tufts Board of Trustees divesting Tufts’ endowment from corporations that profit off of the prisonindustrial complex?” The PIC is a multibillion dollar industry that is economically motivated to increase the amount of historically oppressed communities behind bars. As Anthropology Department Chair Amahl Bishara explained, mass incarceration “is rooted in centuries of racism, colonialism, and violence. It tears apart families and friends, it unmoors communities, it undermines democracy.”

DESIGN BY BRENNA TROLLINGER, ART BY KELLY TAN

According to Professor Hilary Binda, director of Tufts University Prison Initiative and myTERN (Tufts Re-entry Network), the “prison industrial complex ties together government and the legal system with corporate interests, industry, and profit.” She described the PIC as a system that “transforms incarcerated, often Black and brown, bodies into sources of profit, into bodies that consume all sorts of commodities—food, hygiene products, phone and email services—that bolster corporate profits and these bodies also often produce commodities through exploited prison labor; this carceral system thereby devours public funds that might otherwise go toward social programs, like education, housing, childcare, and others.” The Prison Policy Initiative reported that Black Americans are overrepresented in the carceral system; they make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population, despite Black Americans representing only 13 percent of the US population. SJP’s referendum had three main components: 1) A formal apology by the Tufts administration for sending Kevin Maguire, now-retired chief of Tufts University Police Department, on a military training trip to Israel in 2017, 2) Tufts bans TUPD from going on any military trip abroad, and 3) If anyone has attended a military training trip, they cannot be allowed to join TUPD. SJP has fought against the surveillance and compromised safety of Tufts’ own students of color through their End the Deadly Exchange campaign. The Deadly Ex-

change is the trading of arms, tactics, and ideologies between the United States and Israel through training trips. It also calls out the militarization of police in both countries. Julia, a member of SJP, said that Tufts’ involvement with the Deadly Exchange provides tools that further oppress, surveil, and harm communities of color which parallels harm that Tufts causes by investment in the PIC. On November 20, SJP and TREE discussed how more training for police “further entrenches American policing in the racial profiling and violence against Black and brown bodies that it was created in.” Policing is another strategy of racial control that the PIC uses to maintain power over BIPOC communities beyond incarceration. The PIC formally arose from the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 1990s, a racist campaign officially introduced by President Richard Nixon and reinforced again by the Reagan administration. Reagan’s administration enacted “tough-on-crime” legislation which resulted in an increase in incarceration as well as longer sentences. The prison and jail population in the United States has increased from 648,000 in 1983 to more than 2.3 million in 2010. To accommodate this influx, according to TREE member Kate Murphy, “corporations decided to make a profit by creating privately run facilities.” Now, private prisons hold 8 percent of incarcerated people, and more than 70 percent of undocumented immigrants under ICE’s custody. Davis-Pait explained that private prisons “would not exist as

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 3


FEATURE

corporations if they did not have a massive amount of people that were being incarcerated here and overseas, and then [were] bringing them into the industrial complex.” Binda underscored that even nonprivate prisons have private components; state and federal governments often contract private companies for services such as food, surveillance, telephone, and even for mental and physical health. TREE’s goal is to pressure Tufts to divest its holdings from companies that are connected to private prisons. TREE, which was started in July 2020, translated the momentum brought by Black Lives Matter protests and demands for justice into holding institutions of power accountable, including Tufts. Tufts’ endowment is approximately $2 billion and is the 58th largest college endowment in the nation as of 2019. Over email, Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins commented on the university’s endowment. “Sound management of the university, including its endowment, supports Tufts’ reputation as a well-respected and rigorous academic institution with an inclusive community and a commitment to civic life,” Collins said. Grace Abe, a leader in Tufts Climate Action (TCA) and a member of TREE, pushes for Tufts to acknowledge its hypocrisy. “Tufts talks a lot about being civically engaged, being a leader and building a better future,” she said. “And they can’t do any of that if they’re actively profiting off of prisons and climate change through fossil fuels.” Junior Gabe Reyes, a member of TREE, emphasized the urgency for Tufts to use its economic power as a tool to combat injustice, rather than remain complicit. They spoke about how current investment signals support for a system that profits off of the harm and deaths of BIPOC communities: “By taking away economic investments, you disallow capitalism from profiting off the exploitation of Black and brown bodies, and you are taking away the economic stimulus.” Organizers find Tufts divesting to be essential because it can set a standard of justice for other powerful institutions. Reyes said, “There’s significance of divestment as setting a precedent, and it’s a commitment to being anti-racist.” Mabel 4 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

They said that divestment “would show that [Tufts] can take accountability for the unethical investments that they have and refuse to be complicit in a system that is so exploitative, unjust and racist.” Pence, a member of TREE and SJP, found it inexcusable that Tufts has any amount invested in the PIC. They said that divestment “would show that [Tufts] can take accountability for the unethical investments that they have and refuse to be complicit in a system that is so exploitative, unjust, and racist.” “Tufts divesting won’t change [the prison industrial complex],” added Pence. “It will be more of Tufts making a statement that this is not okay.” Tufts’ investments are not publicly available, and their structure is often complicated to understand. Temple MillerHodgkin, a member of TREE and TCA, criticized this measure as a deliberate tactic to make the university’s finances less accessible. “This might be just a quirk of the institutional system, but as we’ve learned, not many things are quirks with institutional systems,” said Miller-Hodgkin. “A lot of that is built into the way that institutions run to make it alienating to people.” Through correspondence with Tufts’ Executive Vice President of Operations Mike Howard, TREE found that Tufts currently has $72,000 invested in the PIC. While these investments comprise less than 1 percent of the total endowment, TREE members believe divestment would still be a significant action against the PIC. Investment and divestment of money act as a statement of values, and investment in private prisons and corporations connected to prisons makes Tufts and Tufts

students, many of whom pay tuition to Tufts, complicit in the PIC. “It’s profound and significant,” said Reyes, “That $72,000 is contributing to the salaries [of those] who are actively brutalizing BIPOC, it’s contributing to the transportation from jails to institutions, it allows for the literal maintenance of prisons…so that $72,000 works in a lot of ways to continue that oppression.” In planning its PIC divestment campaign, TREE has looked to past divestment movements. During the South African apartheid divestment movement in the ’70s and ’80s, students across the country pressured their universities and other institutions to divest from corporations that were active in South Africa. There was an active South African apartheid divestment movement at Tufts, which was eventually successful in 1989. Professor Binda was part of the South African divestment movement as a college student at Brown University, which she said had similar goals to PIC divestment movements. “Apartheid and the American criminal justice system are really not that different,” said Binda, “and they create very similar effects by building and maintaining barriers and ensuring that structural racism endures.” SJP has also led past divestment campaigns; a 2017 Senate resolution calling on Tufts to divest from Israeli apartheid passed, but the administration did not comply with the demands, which were to divest from Elbit Systems, Northrop Gunman, G4S, and Hewlett Packard. The resolution generated controversy as it took place just before Passover, and anti-resolution organizers were worried that many students were away from campus. However, pro-resolution organizers denied that they deliberately planned the referendum in proximity to a Jewish holiday, and pointed out that students not on campus were allowed to testify. President Monaco released a statement expressing concern about the resolution’s timing and cited the 2014 Board of Trustees finding that “divestment was not compatible with the university’s current manner of investing.” TREE is only the most recent organization at Tufts to advocate against Tufts’ investment in the PIC. In 2015, divestment efforts were led by the Tufts Prison Divest-


FEATURE

ment Coalition, which was made up of five student organizations, including SJP. The coalition formed in recognition of the intersectionality of divestment and targeted three of the PIC-complicit corporations that TREE is targeting now: Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic), GEO Group, and G4S, three of the most powerful PIC corporations. However, the coalition dissolved when most of the students leading it graduated. Other organizers at higher education institutions have also fought for divestment from private prisons. In 2015, Columbia University became the first college in the United States to divest from private prison companies. In February 2020, Harvard student organizers fought against prison investment by filing a lawsuit against their institution; they noted that Harvard’s support in the PIC contradicts its commitment to address its legacy of slavery. Tufts’ endowment is invested using three different types of funds: some investments are directly managed by the university, third party managers control separately managed funds, and other portions of the endowment are held in commingled funds. Collins explained that this endowment structure is not unique to Tufts: “Similar to other major university endowments, nearly all of these investments are held in commingled funds […] managed by third parties.” Most of the $72,000 invested in the PIC is held in commingled funds; the divestment process, if successful, would entail directing fund managers not to invest in certain corporations found to be complicit in harm. However, the structure of commingled funds makes divestment difficult because Tufts technically has no direct input on what corporations they are invested in. Collins said, “Due to their structure, commingled funds are not customizable; Tufts is unable to dictate which securities are held in these pools.” Fund managers will often consider the other institutions whose investments they control, and may not comply with the uni-

DESIGN BY BRENNA TROLLINGER, ART BY KELLY TAN

versity’s requests. The administration has previously used this as a reason why they will not divest; in 2015, former Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell told the Tufts Daily that “it would be very difficult to assure that in any point in time we have none of our assets in those companies” and that requesting divestment from certain companies may “limit the range and types of investments Tufts can make and impact the performance of the endowment portfolio.” TREE’s referendum’s scope also expanded its focus beyond corporations that directly run and manage private prisons to include “all corporations that use prison labor, capitalize on fundamental goods and services in prisons, construct prison facilities, and operate private prisons, contributing to the disproportionate policing and incarceration of BIPOC, queer, disabled, and poor people.” Although these corporations may not directly run private prisons, this language ensures that the divestment request is for all institutions contributing to the PIC. If passed, the TREE and SJP referenda will amplify pressure on the administration, which student activists hope will lead to administrative action. Davis-Pait said, “the goal of both of our campaigns is to get the university to comply with our demands. With tangible numbers to show that the student body is in support of our referend[a], that’ll be very influential.” TCU Vice President Grant Gebetsberger commented on the use of a referendum in TREE’s goal for divestment: “I think that TREE made a smart choice in pursuing a referendum which allowed the entire student body to weigh in on private prison divestment.” He added, “This creates an even more powerful call for change than a Senate Resolution could.” The referendum results will be released as soon as hearings from the Elections Commission (ECOM) conclude. ECOM, a branch of student government, is responsible for conducting and overseeing the logistics of all elections, for both

candidates and referenda, and ensuring that they are run fairly and legitimately. ECOM historian Mark Lannigan said that there has been at least one complaint filed by a student concerning the November 24 referenda, and as of December 7, the commission is in a process of review. Moving forward, TREE may follow a similar path as that of TCA, a fossil fuel divestment advocacy group. TCA was founded in 2012, and after years of protests and advocacy, successfully initiated the creation of a Responsible Investment Advisory Group (RIAG), which formed in January 2020. These groups are made up of trustees, faculty, administrators, and students. Each RIAG focuses only on one issue of divestment—in this case, fossil fuel corporations and their impact on global climate change. The fossil fuel divestment RIAG has been meeting to discuss the impact of Tufts’ investments over the past several months; the report they release will communicate their findings and dictate the university’s plans. The report has been released by the committee, but will not be made public until it is approved at the next meeting of the Board of Trustees in February. They may decide to fully divest funds from fossil fuels, partially divest, or not to pursue fossil fuel divestment at all. TREE is still considering whether requesting a RIAG will be their next step, or whether they will pursue divestment from the PIC through other means. Davis-Pait emphasized that SJP and TREE’s work does not begin or end with divestment. “Divesting Tufts’ endowment from the prison-industrial complex is only a very small part in achieving actual liberation from institutions of oppression.” He added, “There’s a lot of ways that these conversations continue on, even outside of the realm of the endowment and divestment.” When thinking about Tufts’ future, Professor Bishara pushes to envision a society “rooted in values of prison abolition,” described as “a society where people can count on having quality health care, food, and schools, where people can be safe, where they can fulfill their dreams and imagine a good future for themselves, their families, and their friends.” DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 5


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THE IMPACT OF THE NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT ON ARMENIAN TUFTS STUDENTS By Aroha Mackay Content Warning: Violence

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he six-week war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory ended with a Russian-brokered deal on November 9. Though the territory has been recognized by the United Nations as part of Azerbaijan, it has been governed as an autonomous zone by ethnic Armenians, who make up 95 percent of the population and consider it part of their ancestral homeland. Consequently, in response to the treaty, Foreign Policy reported that angry Armenian protesters stormed the Armenian parliament, cursing Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for signing the treaty and even going so far as ripping Pashinyan’s nameplate off his door. Armenia’s forces surrendered after Azerbaijan captured Susha, the second largest city in the region and an important strategic stronghold. As part of the deal, both armies kept the territory they held at the war’s end, leaving Azerbaijan with strategically significant areas and the land they lost in the previous war. Further, according to the New York Times, Russia will be deploying around 2,000 peacekeepers for five years, increasing its influence over the region. Lastly, the UN will oversee the return of Azeri citizens who were displaced from the region during the first war. Adam Pidedjian, an ArmenianAmerican Tufts student, explained that “Armenians are devastated about the treaty,” and not only because “the concession of a great portion of Artsakh [Nagorno6 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

Karabakh] and surrounding territories is a loss of indigenous Armenian lands of 2,000 years.” Before the conflict ended, many Armenians expressed that their adversaries’ objectives and rhetoric were worryingly reminiscent of previous attempts at ethnic cleansing. Anna Minasyan, a Tufts sophomore from Armenia, said that she and her family were asking themselves: “Are we going to have a country to go back to [and] are our people going to be safe?” The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh started in 1920 when the USSR established the region, historically inhabited by Armenians, as part of Soviet Azerbaijan. In 1988, the majority Armenian population voted to become a part of Armenia and in the following years, the autonomous region officially declared independence from Azerbaijan. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, tensions boiled over and war broke out. By the time Russia brokered a ceasefire in 1994, Armenia controlled the region and several adjacent Azeri districts. However, tensions remained in what Pidedjian described as a “frozen conflict.” For Minasyan, who has several family members in Armenia, the conflict hit particularly close to home. She explained that everyone in Armenia read the government-published lists with the names and birthdates of those who died on the frontlines. The soldiers on those lists were often close to her age. “Seeing those birthdays and knowing that, oh, that could have been my brother [or] that could have been my cousins if


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they had stayed in Armenia…it was really scary,” Minasyan said. “When you read the names you see your last name… and you know that your literal blood is out there, fighting for your freedom, and you can’t do anything but sit at home and pray for the best.” In addition to concern for family members, Armenians, including Tufts students, have been worried about Turkey’s military support for Azerbaijan given the nation’s role in the Armenian Genocide. Between 1914 and 1923, the Armenian Genocide killed and expelled approximately 1.5 million Armenians from the Ottoman Empire, in what is now modern-day Turkey. As a result, 70 percent of the world’s 10 million ethnic Armenians live outside of Armenia. Many members of the diaspora still feel strongly connected to Armenia and have a deep collective memory of the horrors their ancestors faced. Elysse Karozichian, the president of the Tufts Armenian Club, explained that “having a history of always being pushed off somewhere else, having pogroms against us, [having] families killed, torn apart…you don’t move on from that.” For instance, Pidedjian recounted his great-grandmother witnessing her father being decapitated at five years old and not being able to bury him because “she was too weak to pick [the body] up because she was too small.” Pidedjian underscored that almost every Armenian not living in Armenia is descended from a genocide survivor, who consequently passed down “some crazy story with how they survived.” According to Karozichian, the recent rhetoric of both Turkey and Azerbaijan has made “a lot of Armenians afraid of a new genocide.” For instance, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, tweeted, “Armenia is not even a colony, it is not even worthy of being a servant.” Further, in a recent statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey was going to “continue to fulfill the mission of their grandfathers.” As Minasyan puts it, “[What] their grandparents started was the genocide of the Armenians.” Armenians aren’t the only ones concerned about the actions and rhetoric of Turkey and Azerbaijan. On October 31, DESIGN BY JANIE INGRASSIA, ART BY KATE BIDGOOD

members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars issued a statement warning of an imminent genocide against Armenians based on the “current political statements, economic policies, sentiments of the societies and military actions by the Azerbaijani and Turkish leadership.” The scholars demand that the international community takes action to ensure “that the Azerbaijani aggression immediately ceases, and that anti-Armenian state propaganda and hatred in Azerbaijan and Turkey ends.” Despite these concerns, governments around the world refused to intervene in the conflict. For instance, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained that the US saw it as “a longstanding conflict between these two countries in this particular piece of real estate” and discouraged “internationalization.”

Pidedjian expressed that this lack of a response from the international community has been incredibly frustrating. Explaining that he grew up learning about the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, Pidedjian thought that “it could never happen again in 2020. We all have social media, [and we all thought] the world would see what’s happening and would do something and then it’s happening right before our very eyes. It’s playing out again and the world is doing nothing.” In a recent email, he wrote, “we Armenians find ourselves in 2020 as alone as we were in 1915.” This inaction and perceived lack of awareness surrounding the conflict spurred Armenian students at Tufts to act. On campus, the students have been trying to raise awareness about the conflict through social media, plans to paint the cannon, and informational events. Minasyan explains that as an ArmenianAmerican, she feels it is her responsibil-

ity to advocate for Armenians inside the country who “don’t really have a voice,” noting that the members of the Armenian diaspora “really have the power to change that.” Now that the conflict has ended, Pidedjian said over email that he “never imagined such horrific injustices could be possible in this age of digital connectivity and international peacekeeping and human rights organizations.” Consequently, he feels that “Armenians did not lose this war—humanity did.” Similar to Pidedjian, Karozichian stated that “many Armenians feared that exactly what happened would happen.” For instance, an October Wall Street Journal article reported that approximately 60 percent of the Nagorno-Karabakh population had fled to Armenia, “raising concern among many Armenians that if the offensive succeeds, they could eventually be completely swept out of the South Caucasus enclave.” According to Pidedjian, this fear has been realized, and “over 100,000 ethnic Armenian civilians have been forcibly displaced from the region,” leaving only 30,000 Armenian residents in the region. Karozichian expressed that though it “is a repeat of history for our people to be driven from their homes,” she believes that “Armenians will find a way to overcome this as they always have.” Further, unlike Pidedjian, Karozichian feels relieved that the treaty was signed. She said that “there was not much of an alternative” because “Armenians have to protect their own, and unfortunately it came to a point where it was time to stop protecting our honor in a losing battle and protect our nation of people instead.” Moving forward, Pidedjian hopes that “the international community recognizes the independent republic of Artsakh,” as he feels it “is the only solution that will protect the Armenian civilians and cultural heritage of the region.” That being said, he feels that if they are “to survive and prosper in the future, Armenians must continue to demand better from the international community but also learn from this sobering moment the necessity of self-reliance.” DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 7


OPINION

PUTTING JUMBOS F I R ST : EVALUATING STUDENT GOVERNMENT AT TUFTS By Sharif Hamidi Disclaimer: Sharif Hamidi is the TCU Treasurer. However, this article is the personal opinion of the author, and does not constitute an official statement on the part of the TCU Treasury, TCU Senate, or its Executive Board. ecently, I’ve been reflecting on how student government, as a concept, is a bit of a double-edged sword. At its worst, it sits idly by and does nothing to address problems, or even wastes opportunities to make things better. At its best, it does some good—sometimes pretentiously. I have no illusions about how small or insignificant student government is in the grand scheme of things. Truthfully, I never ran for anything before coming to Tufts, but I ran for TCU Senate in September 2017 because I realized that the kind of work I wanted to do—addressing the problems I wanted to solve—required winning an election. I feel grateful to have won that election, and every one since. I ran pledging to help solve our campus’s problems while fully aware that the things we do aren’t going to change the world. Still, if I can do good for even one person in the Tufts community, then the work is worth doing; that’s why I’ve stayed as long as I have. My goal has always been disproving the theory that student government can’t work, and I’ve found this to be a shared mindset for lots of the people I’ve worked with. And over the years, I think we’ve shown that we can create meaning-

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ful change. Recently, we successfully advocated for the Exceptional Pass/Fail policy that recognizes the challenges of learning during a pandemic, and transferred TCU Treasury funds to the FIRST Center to support low-income students during the chaotic shutdown of last spring. Being effective demands a results-oriented approach and adjusting to meet the challenges ahead. But sometimes, choices get made and actions are taken by people on student

This broader trend—stalling or even sacrificing results in the name of adhering to processes that serve nobody, due to their age or their inapplicability to the present moment—is what deserves criticism, and it isn’t limited to any one group. government without due consideration for the circumstances or the impact on the students they claim to serve. Thursday, November 12 was an example of that. Overall, it was a silly spat over obscure bylaw procedures that don’t affect the daily lives of the vast majority of students. Long story short, there was a

miscommunication. The TCU Judiciary was under the impression that a combination of nepotism and corruption was going to bypass the election process, allowing handpicked candidates to waltz onto student government. The confusion stemmed from the use of the word “appointment”— a process that allows candidates running uncontested for a position to be automatically seated. Nonetheless, the Judiciary issued invalid suspensions against the executive board of TCU Senate, the body that represents student interests, as well as the Elections Commission, the body that runs elections, on the grounds that the two were conspiring to violate the Tufts community’s right to choose who represents them. The problem is that no such thing was ever considered, planned, or executed. The Judiciary rescinded their suspensions on the same day, and the entire episode wasted a lot of time and energy. Beyond the inconvenience it caused, that suspension debacle nearly resulted in the cancellation of the special election on Tuesday, November 24. Doing so would have caused the Women’s Center and the International Center to go even longer without a Community Senator, and denied the Tufts community the ability to participate in critical referenda about campus safety and investment of the endowment. Regardless of how anyone might personally feel about the candidates in the election or the referenda questions on the ballot, it


OPINION W should be obvious that the priority should be to let the student body compare candidates, discuss the issues, and express their preferences by voting. Anything that would have improperly interfered with letting students have their say never should have been seriously considered as a course of action. All of this was jeopardized when the Judiciary chose to suspend the Elections Commission, until they reversed course. In effect, they nearly obstructed the democratic process they claimed to be defending when they issued the suspension. The Judiciary’s suspension of the Senate Executive Board had a similar effect. Projects that are currently in progress had to be put on hold temporarily as time and effort had to be redirected toward addressing the suspension. This included extending flexible academic policies for the next semester, exploring new ways to leverage the TCU Treasury’s financial resources, and reimagining the use of campus spaces during the age of social distancing and de-densification. Student government work that would tangibly benefit students was temporarily stopped. And the worst thing is that the stoppage wasn’t because of an administrator refusing to negotiate, or a lack of resources, or implementation concerns; instead, progress was delayed because of an action taken by other people within the same student government. While I’m sure that wasn’t the intention,

DESIGN BY JOANNA KLESZCZEWSKI, ART BY KELLY TAN

that was the impact. I’m not mad at the Judiciary or even trying to single them out. This broader trend—stalling or even sacrificing results in the name of adhering to processes that serve nobody, due to their age or their inapplicability to the present moment—is what deserves criticism, and it isn’t limited to any one group. This pandemic is a crisis. The fact that life has gone on, in the limited ways it has, doesn’t change the reality that we are all attempting to navigate unprecedented times. A crisis demands that all of us prioritize, wherever we are and in whatever we do. It means giving serious thought to what policies and procedures are essential, which ones can be streamlined, and identifying what no longer matters. When you’re in a leadership position, actively standing in the way of progress and endangering the solutions-oriented work of others is misguided at best and neglect of responsibility at worst. Those who repeatedly do it should be held accountable, using the measure already built into the system: voting them out. That’s why contested elections and increased turnout matter at all levels—they

increase accountability and incentivize effective representation. Running for any elected position is effectively asking a lot of people at once to trust you with the work that comes with that position. Winning that trust comes with an obligation to prove that they made the right choice, and that means taking the work seriously and doing it as well as you can. Approval, in a way that feels so public, is nice, but it’s only satisfying when it’s deserved. It also means not allowing your focus to shift from the work to yourself. The issues affecting our community should be taken seriously, and you can’t do that if you’re taking yourself too seriously. I think these rules apply no matter how small the election or role may be in the grand scheme of things. If you got yourself into a leadership role not to serve others, but just to pad your resume, boost your reputation, or entertain yourself—you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 9


ARTS & CULTURE

By Melanie Litwin

A

s new television programs and seasons premiere, it is clear that COVID-19 is not relegated to reality; it is bleeding into fictional worlds as well. Long-running shows such as This is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, Superstore, and more—along with newly created series like Social Distance—have set the storylines of their new seasons in the midst of the pandemic. Blending fiction with reality showcases characters grappling with the same timely issues as their audiences, affecting the way viewers experience television in the process. For some, television serves as an escape from reality, but for others, television programs reflect their daily struggles and create comfort through relatability. Incorporating the pandemic into the storylines of scripted shows creates an opportunity to explore a variety of issues and to generate dialogue around real struggles 10 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

that people are enduring as a result of COVID-19. As Film and Media Studies Professor Tasha Oren explained, “There are [many] ways that television could explore issues that feel of the moment for COVID, but also have repercussions beyond just one thing…TV is very bad at preaching at people, but it’s really good at suggesting norms.” The norms that television programs suggest influence the perceived mainstream opinions on the pandemic’s effects and severity. For example, Grey’s Anatomy demonstrates how COVID-19 has put a massive strain on the healthcare system and healthcare workers by showing doctors quarantined from their families, losing hundreds of patients to the virus, and even suffering from COVID-19 themselves. Meanwhile, Superstore’s season premiere highlighted the exploitation and health risks essential

workers are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. When characters experience these hardships in their workplaces, these issues can become more personal and visible to those who are not otherwise directly exposed to them. Miranda Feinberg, a junior majoring in English and Film and Media Studies, explained the importance of showing people these realities through fiction: “I think it’s definitely positive to portray the more mundane problems that people are facing where not everyone has access to PPE and to masks…and not everyone can stay home.” The new season of This Is Us is also set in present day—allowing it to call attention to other current events coinciding with the pandemic, such as Black Lives Matter protests and increased mainstream awareness of police brutality. Oren noted, “All of the issues that we’re dealing with


ARTS & CULTURE

are not separate from each other.” Including COVID-19 into television programs means far more than just inclusion of the virus; viewers are exposed to the many complexities of the present moment and how they are intertwined. The events and conversations that take place between television characters directly translate into the lives of viewers because storylines are taking place in our current reality. There are many individuals who feel comforted by seeing COVID-19 weaved into their favorite shows. “Incorporating something that’s happening…if it’s done well, makes a show alive. It makes a show part of our world,” explained Oren. The pandemic has isolated people more than ever, and television can be a point of connection and a way of alleviating feelings of loneliness. In an interview conducted over email, junior Julian Blatt—a member of TUTV—said, “In an age of extreme separation and division, we need reassurance that there are millions of people who feel just as alone as we do.” With this opportunity also comes the concern that shows may minimize the severity of the situation by only briefly touching on the pandemic and related issues before quickly reverting back to “normal” plots while people continue to experience the same hardships. It is also possible for the pandemic to be used in an insensitive manner merely to create drama. Blatt said, “[I]ncluding the pandemic as a plot point solely for the sake of adding drama is inappropriate, and offensive to those who have lost loved ones or were victims themselves.” There can be great benefits to having fictional characters share experiences with viewers, but storylines must be handled and developed tactfully to have a positive effect. Creators and producers of television programs have numerous reasons for situating their shows during the current moment. For one thing, many of the programs premiering this fall were filmed during the pandemic, so including it in the story lends itself well to filming under current health and safety restrictions. Resuming

production during a pandemic has been no small feat, and building in plausible excuses for masks, social distancing, and/or Zoom calls has made the process significantly easier. Additionally, what is “normal” and relatable has been dramatically altered during these times, and conforming to these changes allows television shows to maintain a certain amount of relevance and realism. Everyday life is so different today from a year ago that excluding COVID-19 from storylines could feel unnatural or bizarre to viewers, as Oren emphasized: “Especially if a show is set in a situation in which [COVID-19] would be an issue, it’s really very hard for a show to just ignore it [and] pretend it doesn’t exist.” This alienation would be a barrier to genuine connection with the stories and characters. Oren also noted, “[Shows’ creators] want audiences to be emotionally connected

ions on this inclusion of COVID-19. Some people do not want to see reminders of their real lives in fiction due to the heightened stress of the current times. Oren spoke to the increased appeal of escapism right now, stating, “[People are] watching a lot of old movies and they’re also watching a lot of shows that don’t replicate the kind of anxiety that they…live with every day.” For that reason and others, many shows have chosen to omit the pandemic from their storylines altogether. Feinberg said, “There’s so many different ways that different people are experiencing [the pandemic], [so] it makes sense why a lot of people would veer away from including it in the show…I feel like it’s hard to navigate it in a respectful way or just in a responsible way even.” In some instances though, shows—such as Young Sheldon and The Goldbergs—are logically ignoring COVID-19 because they are set in the past, allowing them to offer escapism without being critiqued. It may be comforting for viewers to carve out time where they are not forced to engage with their stressors and are reminded of more simple times. Viewers may avoid shows that focus on the current pandemic now because it is too much to handle, but potentially also would not want to return to it at a later date because it is so specific to this current moment and would no longer feel as relatable. The pandemic’s inclusion in television’s fictional universes is a complicated decision for creators. Time will only tell if this trend will continue as more programs are able to resume production and are forced to choose how to—or how not to—deal with the pandemic. Oren shared, “I’m hoping that this experience with COVID and everything that’s happening now is kind of a shot in the arm for people to really start thinking about the kind of world they reflect in the stories they write.”

“Incorporating happening… i something that’s makes a show f it’s done well, s h o w p a r t o f o a l i v e. I t m a k e s a ur world.”

DESIGN BY SOFIA PRETELL

with the characters or the stories. They want to touch people’s lives.” For many, there is a sense that the current times are historically important and therefore must be preserved by creators—even in fiction. As the writer and creator of the new scripted TUTV series When the Masks Come Off, Blatt voiced this sentiment: “We live in an era truly unlike any other, and if I had decided against incorporating such a unique moment in history into the series I know I would regret it forever.” Viewers have many different motivations for watching television, so there are bound to be varying reactions to and opin-

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 11


NEWS

FRACTURES IN THE SKY THAILAND’S YOUTH CRITICIZE A PREVIOUSLY UNTOUCHABLE INSTITUTION

By Yumei Lin

T

ear gas and water cannons barraging a wall of umbrellas and inflatable rubber duckies is a common sight on Bangkok streets these days. These past few months, Thailand has been consumed by some of the largest protests in the nation’s history. Activists are demanding three key things: the current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, the rewriting of the constitution with a popularly elected drafting committee, and monarchy reform. Protests are not uncommon in Thailand. Generally, the political split comes down to

12 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

two groups: the red shirts and yellow shirts. The red shirts are generally associated with the more pro-democratic groups in the country, and have roots in the supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who ruled from 2001 to 2006. In contrast, the yellow shirts tend to be supporters of the monarchy. To outsiders, and even to some members of the Thai citizenry, the 2020 protests might seem like they came out of nowhere. However, several events this year have increased frustration among young people.

In February, an opposition party popular with the younger generation called Future Forward was disbanded due to an alleged violation of finance rules. While there were youth-led protests as a result, they were brought to an abrupt halt by the COVID-19 lockdown. In July, a prominent exiled Thai pro-democracy activist named Wanchalearm Satsaksit disappeared in Cambodia, further escalating existing tensions. The current protests have deep roots in Thai history. The 2014 coup d’état marked the 13th coup in the country since the


NEWS

Siamese Revolution of 1932, a time regarded by scholars as the beginning of democracy in Thailand. The leader of the 2014 monarchy-backed coup, Chan-o-cha was elected as Prime Minister in the contentious national elections of 2019. However, “most conservatives [didn’t] think that a coup d’état, or the legacy of the coup d’état, could be a breaking point” to start off protests, said a former Fletcher student from Thailand, who chose to remain anonymous. She continued to say, “you will find that some of them will still legitimise a coup d’état…but many people like the red shirt people or the other more liberal, mostly younger people will think this is such a breaking point, that this is unbearable in a country that you call a democratic country, this is like a cancer in a democracy, in democratic progress.” This set of protests also strikes a different tone due to the protestors’ approach regarding the monarchy. According to the former Fletcher student, “The young people are talking about the monarchy, while the red and yellow [shirts] don’t talk about the monarchy except the fact that they have to be there.” Plearn Aroonchote, a Tufts student from Thailand, said, “This is the first time that…the question of reforming the monarchy has been talked about...it’s such a taboo to question anything about the monarchy.” The Fletcher student added, “[The protesters] started to question a major institution, and one that used to be untouchable in the past.” The monarchy in Thailand has some of the strictest lese-majeste (“to do wrong to the monarchy”) laws in the world, forbidding criticism of the ruling family with DESIGN BY CAMILLE SHIMSHAK, ART BY KELLY TAN

harsh consequences for those who do so. The royals also have a disproportionate amount of power over Thai politics. King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand is often described as the richest royal in the world, and also holds some military troops in his personal command. The relationship between the monarchy, government, and military has often been described as symbiotic, such as in the 2014 coup backed by the legitimacy of the monarchy. Another Thai Tufts student, Deena Bhanarai, believes that respect for the monarchy is ingrained in the very culture of Thailand. “The monarchy has served as a really powerful symbol of Thai culture in a similar way to the queen of the UK…people literally feel like the king is their father, and…it shows why they’re being so violently protective of the king,” Bhanarai said. As Bhanarai described, there’s generational tension at play here, where much of the older generation reveres the monarchy due to propaganda, and some “are ready to defend this institution that they’ve been brought up respecting so much to the point where they would defend it with their own life.” A common narrative in Thailand is that the monarchy derives some of its legitimacy from the heavens, or the “sky above the people” (เบื้องบน). Aroonchote says that for the younger generation, there’s still a strong sense that “to be a good Thai, you have to respect the monarchy or the royal institution.” According to Bhanarai, conservatives often argue that “you hate the nation if you are against the monarchy. These students protesting right now, they hate the nation.” Thai students overseas have also drummed up support for the protests. On November 22, a group of Thai students

and their allies stood outside the Thailand Trade and Economic Office in Taipei at an event hosted by Taiwan Alliance for Thai Democracy. One of the student protestors tore up a Thai flag, separating the blue stripe in the middle from the red and white on the outside. The student then stepped on the blue stripe, which symbolizes the monarchy. One sign read, “If you don’t know how to stay under the constitution, then go to hell,” with many of these signs intentionally using informal language to show that the monarchy as an institution is on the same level as the rest of the people. The Thai political situation has even reached Boston. Outside the Harvard Kennedy School is a square dedicated to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the late Thai king who died in 2016 and was born in Cambridge. Thai democracy supporters have also been protesting here in solidarity with their counterparts overseas. Protestors danced alongside a large rubber duck, which has become a symbol of the prodemocracy movement. Aroonchote saw international solidarity in this set of protests. “The support is there, non-traditional alliances…a lot of people from Hong Kong [are] sharing protest tips.” But she wished that “people knew more about Thailand. I know a lot of people when they heard about this were like, ‘Oh, Thailand had a monarchy, we didn’t know that.’” According to Aroonchote, while Western media has brought attention to Bangkok, it’s critical that attention stays there and that people are aware. “Thai politics, and the perception around Thai politics, has moved to another stage,” said the anonymous Fletcher student. “These are new actors, new concepts, new everything.” DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 13


Michelle Li, film photography. Erica Levy, ink.


FEATURE


POETRY

love l e t t e rs love

By Kate Bowers

after afternoon, again. beyond bitter blue breaths careful cars, closing clouds, clutching college-colored darkness. each early ending, feeling flat, fleeting, flimsy. getting gloomier. going home, honey? illegible illustrations; imagine jasmine-jellied joy just kept kicking. kids, kindred, kissing. late-for-movie laughing. listen, little lonely love. lucky me.

16 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020


POETRY

b o d y m a n i fe s t o By Caroline Blanton

skateboard careening into oncoming traffic without me not a blade of grass in sight the concrete breaks my fall rips a hole in my favorite pants linen, purple and white checkered like a picnic blanket skinned knees and scraped-up palms such childhood injuries I used to be careless with my body in a way that always scared my mother an unathletic child, walking through the world with no awareness of her surroundings (on purpose) I broke bones just sitting still, my mom liked to joke my body is a litany of scars and scabs and bruises it’s hard to take care of something you hate this time I don’t cry just deflate I am the kindest to my body right after I inflict harm upon it gently swipe an alcohol wipe across the gooey, raw surface of bloody exposed flesh the sting grounds me this feels like church consecration, sacrifice, worship, atonement ritual I don’t trust myself very much I don’t listen to my body enough most of the time I intentionally tune her out ignore her cues eat, sleep, stretch, repeat

I thought I was ready so I put my wheels to the asphalt and pushed off halfway down the hill I feel panic rise in me like bile too fast, too fast, too fast why didn’t I learn how to slow down? knowing one notch in the gravel could send me flying, I throw myself to the side with abandon radically overestimating my body’s abilities

but then I remember how nice it feels to sit down after a really long walk to feel the vibrations of the pavement in your legs as you skate your softest clothes trapping your own body heat, making you sleepy the feeling of eating something spicy that clears out your sinuses cracking your back first thing in the morning cracking the spine of a book to smell its pages I think that maybe my body isn’t a litany of injuries but a litany of sensations I think that maybe if I listen closely enough she’ll tell me that she loves me and I will say it back.

DESIGN BY EVELYN ABRAMOWITZ, ART BY EVELYN ABRAMWITZ, KELLY TAN, LAURA WOLFE

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 17


ARTS & CULTURE

ZOOM ROOMS: MAKE IT OR BREAK IT By Meera Rohera

T

he first time I heard about Zoom was when classes went online. When the pandemic pushed people from offices and classrooms to their homes, platforms like Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Slack had the opportunity to dominate the communication market. But as it turns out, they were all overtaken by Zoom in the digital race. Along with a rather intuitive interface, Zoom offers a range of unique features that has made it almost synonymous with video conferencing in the last year. One feature that we, as students, are abundantly familiar with are breakout rooms. Breakout rooms act as a substitute for group discussions that regularly occur during in-person classes. In a time where our interactions with other people are very limited, they form a new and interesting part of our daily socialization. On its website, Zoom explains that “breaking into groups for smaller, focused discussions is a hallmark of the in-person meeting experience, and with Zoom’s Breakout Rooms 18 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

feature, you can bring that same dynamic meeting structure to the digital space.” With features such as breakout rooms, Zoom is striving to create some semblance of normalcy in our lives. Philosophy Professor Erin Kelly explained that her intention with using breakout rooms goes beyond just discussing the class material. She said, “Students also don’t have a lot of contact with one another under the pandemic, so it seems like a good way to provide a small group format for students, to not only explore the ideas in the class, but also to get to know one another and relax a little bit more in the classroom.” Other departments share this view, as psychology Professor Holly Taylor spoke about the importance of breakout rooms in creating a sense of community to help overcome the isolation experienced by students during the pandemic. She said, “As an instructor, you want to build some community with your students. That con-

nection, I think, is important for mental health, and mental health obviously has important implications for learning…you might not become friends with the people in your breakout room, but I think it is one good way to have students connect.” She also explained that, as her class is hybrid, breakout rooms make way for remote students to interact with the other students taking the course too. According to a survey conducted by the Tufts Observer, for students, sentiments towards breakout rooms are highly polarized. While some people like the opportunity to speak with classmates without the professor around, others seem to wholeheartedly detest them. A handful of people dislike breakout rooms so much that they leave the Zoom meeting as soon as they see “The host is inviting you to join ‘Breakout Room: Breakout Room 1’” flash on their screen. Discussing the positives of breakout rooms, Isabella Getgey, a junior in the dual


ARTS & CULTURE

degree program at the SMFA, wrote in the survey that “they’re a good place to socialize! I miss having in-person interactions with people in my classes, especially in SMFA classes, where your connection to the community comes directly from interacting with classmates.” Breakout rooms can fill the gap left by those personal interactions we had with the people sitting around us in an in-person class that cannot happen when there are over 30 tiles displayed on our screens. For some people, breakout rooms have also successfully replaced romantic pursuits that would have otherwise happened in person. An anonymous senior said, “For me, personally, it has been a bit easier on Zoom.” He explained that in a big class it’s more difficult to strike up a conversation with someone you’re interested in, whereas on Zoom you can just send them a private message in the chat. He went on to say that “when we get put into breakout rooms, they’re the first person I am looking out for to see if they’re in the same room as me…[we’ve] kinda bonded over how much we hate breakout rooms.” While he has had a positive experience pursuing his romantic interests with the help of breakout rooms, others have more awkward stories to tell. In the survey, an anonymous junior noted, “I keep getting into breakout rooms with my Tinder matches that I’ve ghosted or been ghosted by…sometimes 2 [T]inder matches in a breakout room…of 3.” Zoom breakout rooms have the potential to be highly tense. Multiple people have shared stories where everybody has their cameras turned off and mics muted and not a soul speaks in the entirety of the breakout room. Sophomore Emma Sonnenblick shared a breakout room horror story, saying, “[A] girl turned off her camera and the other girl in the room and I didn’t think she was there because she didn’t talk the whole time. When we got back to the room she shared all of our answers.” People have also said that breakout rooms can be highly unproductive, especially when a professor assigns too much time for the task they give. In the survey, an anonymous student said, “One time DESIGN BY SOFIA PRETELL, ART BY KELLY TAN

we were in break out rooms to work on a group project the whole period (no prof) so my group mate rolled a blunt and started smoking.” Similarly, junior Jahansher Khan said, “They’re completely useless, at least in Comp Sci lab so many times the students already do the lab ahead of time (they’re not supposed to) or just do not help in the lab. Occasionally you get a really nice head who does the lab with you so it’s a hit or miss.”

My personal experience with breakout rooms leans mostly towards the positive side. While the first few moments are often characterized by uncomfortable silent glances, once someone eventually speaks up the conversations are usually interesting. Just last week, I was in a breakout room that ran over time because we were having an engaging discussion reimagining the justice system with prison abolishment. In contrast, I have been put in one very intimidating breakout room of three people: me, my TA, and my professor. They were obviously waiting for me to speak up first and take lead on the discus-

sion question, which I eventually ended up blabbering about because I was nervous. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day ruminating on smarter things I could have said instead. Another unpleasant breakout room experience I’ve had was when two people (yes, they were white, and yes, they were men) completely dominated the conversation. It took me 10 minutes to get my first word in. This is not a one-off incident. It is much more difficult to break into a conversation on Zoom than in in-person classes. Professor Taylor explained, “If you look at research on turn taking and conversations, there are all sorts of non-verbal cues and linguistic cues that people give in conversations. And so when those non-verbals are missing in breakout rooms, it’s harder to know who should go next.” In in-person classes, someone can bring you into a conversation by looking at you, or you could indicate that you want to share something through gestures like leaning forward. Zoom does not allow for these intimacies, so it often either amplifies or diminishes the space we take up in the room. Professor Kelly optimizes the breakout room experience by trying to raise issues that people might have something to say about, both in a larger group setting and in breakout rooms: “I think in theory they could work in any class, but you might need to do a little bit more preparation in some courses as compared to others.” She explained this method could include different students taking responsibility to bring questions on the material to the group, diverging a little bit more from the class material, or assigning writing exercises. Breakout rooms are definitely an intriguing phenomenon born out of the pandemic. Everyone in your breakout room can get a full frontal view of your room and everything in the purview of your camera without knowing that you are sitting without pants on. You can also never predict how they are going to turn out. But clearly, if used productively, they can be valuable to students in terms of learning as well as socializing.

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 19


OPINION

V A M O S DA R “I

magine if it were us throwing a party about latinidad.” This was my friend’s response upon learning that Tufts’ Latinx Center (LC) had hosted “Taste of Brazil,” a party organized by nonprofit Potencia to celebrate Brazilian culture during this year’s Tufts Global Month. Chaos ensued in the Brazilian Student Association WhatsApp group chat. None of us had been invited to the event; we were not even approached to help with the programming. How can latinidad, the shared cultural identity of Latinx peoples, be celebrated by dismissing the experiences of a subset of Latinxs? Lots of laughs followed my friend’s response: he had spoken to how so many Brazilian Jumbos feel about the Latino community at Tufts. It wants and tries to include us, but it does not always succeed in doing so. That is because, ultimately, there is ambivalence among Brazilian and Latino communities about whether Brazilians are Latinos or not. This hesitancy prevents many Brazilians from connecting with other students of Latin American origin or using resources provided by the LC. We don’t

20 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

feel welcome at Bolles House, despite the sumptuous Brazilian flag hung in its living room. But if we want to make the LC more welcoming to our community and to nonHispanic Latinos overall, we must own our Latino identities by making ourselves present in this space—by attending events, joining committees, and communicating with the LC’s administration. Much of Brazilian Jumbos’ hesitancy to participate in the LC is rooted in unclear understandings of the term “Latino.” Let’s address the (Portuguese-speaking) elephant in the room: I am a Brazilian who identifies as Latina and believes Brazilians should be allowed to claim Latino identity. My stance conflicts with the US Census’ definition of “Hispanic/Latino” as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” That is, people who come from countries where Spanish isn’t spoken, like Brazil, cannot officially claim Latino identity. However, contrary to the logic of the US Census, some scholars find that Brazilians get labeled as Hispanic/Latino in the United States. This is because many US na-

! S A R A C AS

By Sophia Costa

tives identify others as Hispanic/Latino based on evaluations of their geographic origin, language, and racial presentation—in other words, if you hail from somewhere below the US-Mexico border and both sound and look Latino, you will likely be classified as such. In discussing Latino identities, it’s also crucial to understand the etymology of the terms “Latin America” and “Latino.” “Latin America” was a label created in 1836 by French statesman Michel Chevalier, who aimed to unify colonized peoples under a “Latin” identity. The history of “Latin America” and “Latino” as identifiers is, thus, a history of whiteness and colonialism in the subcontinent. On one hand, the category of “Latino” was founded as an instrument of white supremacy in our region to further colonize through pseudo-scientific racism. This championed the alleged moral and technical superiority of white colonizers against “inferior” native and enslaved peoples. On the other hand, Latin Americans (re)claiming their Latino identity resignifies this label as a


OPINION

L E T ’ S SHO

W UP!

symbol of our shared past of colonization, slavery, and decolonial struggle. Considering oneself Latino, as a Brazilian, is, therefore, an act of pan-ethnic solidarity. It is through this unanimity and by making new meanings out of a once-imposed identity that we will begin to overcome our legacy of colonialism. Latinos, regardless of national origin, must not destroy this potential for solidarity-building through cultural gatekeeping. Solidarity, nonetheless, isn’t achieved by symbolically subscribing to latinidad. Brasileiros, precisamos dar as caras—Brazilians must show up to the LC. Indeed, its events are more geared toward Hispanic cultures and traditions; its communications play around with Spanish words, not Portuguese ones. But how will these practices change if we continue criticizing them from afar? Attend events; suggest Brazilinspired ones; live in the Latinx Culture House; get involved with the LC’s leadership; join the Association of Latin American Students; become an LC peer leader. If the predominant use of Spanish in the LC makes us feel ostracized, we shall color the space with our Português. I am not proposing we individualize a collective problem, but that we

spearhead the cultural changes needed for enhanced institutional action in the LC. After all, as non-Hispanic Latinos, we comprehend our needs in ways that Hispanics and the Center’s entirely Hispanic administration don’t. How can they promote effective change without knowing there are changes to be made? Instead of waiting for institutional action, I suggest we invest more time in getting to know and participating in Tufts’ Latino community because spaces like the LC exist precisely for individuals who share identities to be together. Hispanic spaces must be preserved; however, doing so isn’t antithetical to striving for Brazilian inclusion in Latino circles. Creating more opportunities for these students through the LC can provide them resources—from funding to social networks and support systems—they may not find elsewhere. These are particularly crucial in a predominantly white institution like Tufts, where over 60 percent of the student body is white and less than nine percent is Hispanic/Latino. Though I cannot speak for other Jumbos, identity-based centers are the few

DESIGN BY JOANNA KLESZCZEWSKI, ART BY KELLY TAN

places on campus where I can let my guard down, stay in touch with my culture, and connect with those who share similar backgrounds. This holds true for a majority of Brazilian Jumbos because while most of us are white-presenting, we don’t subscribe to the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) majority’s culture that is hegemonic at Tufts. While we must acknowledge our privileges as white-presenting people, it is also important to remember there may be aspects of our identities that we share with other students of Latin American ancestry and not with our WASP peers. The LC might be one of many spaces on campus where we can reconnect with our identities. It isn’t a silver bullet, but it can surely help some Jumbos find their herd and expand their understanding of their identities. Showing up to the Latinx Center and advocating for more programming for Brazilians and non-Hispanics will certainly help make the center more welcoming to all Latinos. However, we cannot stop there; we must dismantle long-standing institutions of colonialism and whiteness—including mainstream notions of “Latin America” and “Latino”—that continue to oppress Latin American peoples.

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 21


NEWS FEATURE

BATTLE FOR THE BALLOT STUDENTS REFLECT ON THE 2020 ELECTION By Sabah Lokhandwala

T HE e

I THINK?

up in the past is nobody was talking to them. They weren’t at the voter polls in the last election. Because they hadn’t voted, politicians didn’t talk to them. And because officials didn’t talk to them, they didn’t show up,” said Solomont. While politicians were engaging with young people, young voters in swing states witnessed political pressure in their own communities. Tufts senior Ameenah Rashid said that despite being from a liberal county in Florida, she felt the strength of the political divisions between Floridians: “Back home, I did have conversations with friends who had just barely voted for Biden. If [they] didn’t live in Florida, [they] wouldn’t have voted for him…I also saw a lot of posts from people I knew from high school who were Trump supporters who were offended [by liberal viewpoints].” These tensions influenced young people to vote even more. Jen McAndrew, director of communications at Tisch

G

ION CT LE

22 TUFTS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER DECEMBER 11,28,2020 2020

VOTE MATters Y M

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he constant refreshing of the electoral map and watching states teeter between blue and red agonized Americans for a week in early November. The 2020 election results were decided amid great tension in a highly divided United States, with organizers on all sides trying to secure a win for their respective party. Despite these tensions, the election had record-breaking voter turnout, diverse candidates, and civic engagement from young people. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s bipartisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) initiative found that young voters were crucial in 11 battleground states, and that youth voter turnout increased from 42 – 44 percent in 2016 to 52 – 55 percent in 2020. Alan Solomont, dean of Tisch College, said this phenomenon could be accredited to the increasing willingness of politicians to address young people directly. “Part of the reason that young people hadn’t shown

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eaRLy ABSENTEE IN-PERSON iN GEORGIA Mail-in third party

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College, explained, “We found [that] young people being active in [and] witnessing movements around racial justice and climate change translated into voter registration and voting.” In the months leading up to the election, Rashid saw America’s divide on racial justice movements. “This summer when a whole bunch of smaller protests were going on, there’s just one street corner in my town and someone was holding a Black Lives Matter sign…people were throwing things at him, someone called the cops on him, and that corner turned into this very controversial spot in my city. If he wasn’t there, Trump supporters would stand there and hold Trump signs,” she explained. Despite being at Tufts when she cast her ballot, Rashid felt the national pressure on voters in swing states. “It was definitely weird voting. All my housemates [are] from the Northeast and it’s weird being like, my vote matters more,” she expressed.


NEWS FEATURE

Tufts students were also involved in the campaigning side of this election. Tufts sophomore Izzy Lobin started working for the Biden campaign in Iowa in January and eventually transitioned to campaigning in Florida over the summer. During his time in the state, Lobin witnessed firsthand the polarization of American politics. “I think at least compared to my school and [home] life, Florida was definitely a shock. I was fortunate enough to work a couple of events, one with Vice President-Elect Harris, and we had counter-protesters outside who, to put it nicely, were very interested in antagonizing us in order to get us to leave our venue,” he said. Over the course of the campaign, Lobin realized that politics were not always going to be clean-cut. He recalled, “Right outside the venue Trump supporters were very much in full force, probably 50 or so and like five to 10 signs per person, maskless. You could see the visual tension [at that moment].” While Lobin was on the ground in Florida, Tufts first-year Alex Dingle was working for Battleground Iowa—an initiative by the Iowa Democratic Party to promote Democratic candidates—right from her dorm room. She got involved because she wanted experience working on political campaigns, and with campaigns being mostly remote, college students like Dingle had the opportunity to volunteer in battleground states while still at school. Dingle originally worked for progressive candidate Teresa Greenfield’s Senate campaign. “[During the primaries] we were calling Democrats to sway them into voting specifically for Teresa Greenfield. Those calls were very much either she wasn’t progressive enough, or she was too progressive, which is often a point of contention, like where does the Democratic Party stand?” she said. Dingle’s experience with voters echoed a national trend within the Democratic Party. Solomont, who has been a part of Democratic politics for the past 22 years, said, “There’s [virtually]

DESIGN BY AND ARTDOE, BY CAMILLE SHIMSHAK JOHN ART BY JANE DOE

no diversity of thought right now in the Republican Party, and it’s actually a very sad thing. There is diversity in the Democratic Party, and you do have a spectrum of very progressive and moderate.” While this diversity of thought has created room for more progressive candidates and policies, in this election, the ideological divide within the party made it harder for campaigns like the one Dingle worked on to garner support for their candidate. Dingle is originally from New York and found it engaging to see the issues Iowans centered their political beliefs around. “In New York, we focus on housing issues, women’s health care, and education. But in Iowa, it was definitely very agricultural focused. I had no idea what goes on in these big plants and production and I had to learn to engage with voters,” she said. In key states, youth voters determined whether the state leaned Democrat or Republican. “It’s important to note that young voters are not a monolith. Onethird of young voters still voted for Trump,” expressed Solomont. In Iowa, young voters helped the state go red, which Dingle saw in real time through her experience: “Iowa has same day voter registration and a lot of youth showed up and registered to vote Republican, and voted not only for Trump but for other Republican candidates as well.” In Georgia, however, youth voter engagement helped secure Biden’s victory. “One of the reasons that Biden won Georgia is because young people turned out and voted for him in big numbers. It was young people of color. Young Black voters in Georgia voted 90 percent for Joe Biden, 8 percent for Donald Trump. The share of the electorate of young people in Georgia was the highest in the country,” said Solomont. While political polarization and party politics are normal parts of every election cycle, a global pandemic is not. Both Lobin and Dingle cited new challenges campaigns had to face because of the pandemic: “The average age for volunteers is 50 to 70, [and] training 50 to 70-year-olds on making calls on a computer is difficult.

Zoom is not the easiest of tasks.” Dingle expressed similar concerns about human interaction while campaigning. “Doorto-door interaction is shown to be the most effective way to garner support for a candidate from a voter. And of course, we couldn’t do that, because COVID was increasingly getting worse and worse as the campaign went on,” she said. But COVID also opened people’s eyes about policy problems. “79 percent of the young people we polled said that the pandemic had shown them how important politics was in their daily lives. So one thing [raising turnout] is [the] rising expectation for young people to vote,” said Solomont. Lobin believes adapting to COVID will make future campaigns more accessible. “It’ll open up campaigning for years to come and the ability to let people do it from home. The Biden campaign completely revolutionized campaigning virtually,” he said. Digital campaigning decreases the barrier for entry, cultivating more grassroots energy into political races. Virtual events can bring in more voters who previously did not have access to in-person events. This election is not over yet. Georgia will vote for its Senate seats in January, where Solomont believes young voters will play a huge role again. As for youth engagement, it hasn’t died down either. According to CIRCLE’s 2020 Youth Electoral Significant Index, Georgia’s Senate races rank among the top 10 elections in which youth voters have the highest potential to influence the outcome. “If you look at where communities really mobilized, Georgia is probably the best example. [Their progress, however,] didn’t happen overnight, that’s something people have been working on for 10 years. It’s important to keep in mind that what’s happening is a result of forces that have been at work and will only continue and intensify,” said Solomont.

DECEMBER 28, 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 23 SEPTEMBER


VOICES

YOU 24 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

AND I

By Rabiya Ismail


VOICES

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel an unspoken tension in all spaces I occupy, except those with strangers. Perhaps it’s because strangers have no experience of me. There is nothing unspoken when there is nothing to assume, nothing to judge, nothing to say. Something about occupying a room with a stranger brings me peace. We are both bare—excused from expecting anything from each other, shielded from the harm we could cause each other, and free from any commitments to each other. On the other hand, there is an unbearable tension between you and me, because we have a past. There are many “you”’s in this story, and maybe that’s what makes it so complicated. You and I went on two dates. It felt normal and stable. We talked about life and death and nonsensical gossip; we went on spontaneous Joey rides and studied together in quiet cafés. But my brain convinced me our stability was unsteady, and suddenly I was telling you I couldn’t see you any longer. Doubt surfaces in my mind when I hear your name, and I’m left in suspense by the unexplored. Yet we still occupy the same spaces, sharing niceties. There is the occasional weekend greeting that we exchange behind screens, but neither of us dares to go any further—remembering my incomprehensible actions. Maybe I let go too soon, but I have made peace with the tension in my head. The suspense will have to keep. You and I went on three dates over the span of six months. I always felt like we were an awkward pair—dancing in hushed hallways and cramped living rooms of offcampus houses, pretending we were the best pong partners of all time, and stealing kisses over the register. I flirted for the thrill, but your continued interest made

DESIGN BY KATE BOWERS, ART BY RABIYA ISMAIL

me wonder if we could be more. Even so, I got tired of the sweetness. It began to feel too cozy for the calamity in my head. I postponed our plans until one rescheduled date was indefinitely “to be determined.” You and I almost dated. We snuck kisses in the dark and sang melodies to each other in the grass. We ran around in the rain and met in the nighttime to avoid getting caught by our parents. Making public what we had meant admitting that I felt something real, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to escape our secret world. But all secrets are eventually bound to come out. Questions about what we were flooded in; the sweet well-wishes and communal happiness for our relationship overwhelmed me. I knew that the comfort of it all meant its collapse would come soon, or at least that’s what my brain convinced me to be true. The chaotic question storm assured me that the tension that would follow after ending things between us would be worth it—to rid the turbulence. I left your text messages asking what went wrong unopened until the communication eventually went silent. You and I couldn’t date. We met through a friend, and I was immediately attracted to you, but I couldn’t pursue it because I was too scared of what it meant. I was living under faulty labels, but I knew no way of stifling my complacency. Thankfully, my old habits of ending “what-ifs” saved me. This last pair is the most confusing: the relationship I have with myself. I can’t desert my own mind. I can’t beg the tension to go away or force it to leave. There is no solution to our tension. My mind misinterprets normality for unrest, and I have a hard time staying in one place at a time. Maybe it’s my ADHD,

or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe my mind cannot remain still, continually wanting to neglect relationships with other people even when my mind is repeatedly imploring itself to take the chance. This dysfunction causes me to move from place to place, person to person, and task to task, forgetting where I came from and what I am looking for. Honestly, I’m not sure if I know anything besides imbalance. The turmoil I live with convinces me to mix this new revelation into the jumbled pot and stir, telling me that none of it is a problem. It asks me whether I am even sure if I want the tension to go away. After all, I quite often crave it. But I know that old wounds have a way of stealing relationships, and I don’t want them to steal my newfound power. The tension that permeates throughout my relationships with others will continue to be unavoidable until I figure out how to heal the tension within myself. I have watched relationships fall apart in front of me without uttering a word, choosing to exit the room instead. I have let myself create relationships without untangling the complexities I have with myself. From now on, I come first. There’s always been a pressure to figure it all out—to know what I want from people and from myself. Here I am—engulfed in my tense world, and I don’t know all the answers yet. The world is begging me to stay put, remain calm, and bask in confusion. As I contemplate how to cope with this, I give myself grace, and release. The tension will eventually fail to constrict my body. The tension will become my peace.

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 25


By Unnathy Nellutla

LOVE AT FIRST ZOOM

CAMPUS

26 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

D

espite COVID-19 restrictions creating the idea that romance is dead at Tufts, many are still looking to date. The Action for Sexual Assault Prevention by Tufts Men (ASAPtm) branch surveyed 65 Tufts students to gather data before their “Courtship and COVID” event on November 1, which was a discussion about people’s feelings and experiences around dating during the pandemic. The survey found that 70 percent of respondents had been on a date since the pandemic started. Sophomore Annalise Jacobson said, “I think that I want to be in a relationship in general; I don’t think COVID has to do with that.” She plans to continue going out on dates during the pandemic. There are still many options for dating life at Tufts, despite the difficulties students face trying to remain safe while finding closeness with other people. However, for many, COVID has made maintaining a dating or sex life difficult, if not impossible. In ASAPtm’s survey, 62 percent of respondents said that the pandemic has made their dating life more difficult because it’s hard to meet people, it’s stressful, or it’s unsafe. Fifty-three percent of the survey respondents said that they were only comfortable with sexual contact under certain conditions, such as if they were in a monogamous relationship, with someone they live with, someone who has been tested, or a member of the Tufts community. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they were not at all comfortable. Sexual Health Representative Sophia Alfred said, “Given our current state, [the Sex Health Reps] wouldn’t say that it’s safe to be in close contact with anyone either from Tufts or in the surrounding area. Tufts is seeing cases rise and so are Medford and Somerville…There’s risk involved regardless if you’re participating in close physical contact with anybody outside of your household.” Since students are mostly in control of how strictly they socially distance despite the stated rules, they have to choose how to best prioritize their safety and the safety of others as well as respect the concerns of more cautious partners. Jacobson said, “People are less available and there’s nothing to do. For example, [someone I was planning to go on a date with] was like, ‘I don’t really want to hang out right now

because of COVID, we should do it after Thanksgiving.’” Sophomore Jonathan Lai said that when he goes on dates, “I always wear a mask. I always ask, ‘How many times a week are you tested?’ [and] ‘Are you negative?’” Almost all the participants of ASAPtm’s survey said they discussed guidelines for sex and relationships with the people that they live with. Forty-eight percent of respondents on ASAPtm’s survey said that they pre-


CAMPUS

ferred meeting partners during the pandemic through dating apps. Similarly, this year’s creators of the popular hookup app, JumboSmash, designed by Tufts students for Tufts seniors, have been considering COVID restrictions, regulations, and more when designing the application. An anonymous team member of JumboSmash said, “We’re trying to make sure that we keep the Tufts community safe and we don’t promote risky behavior. Especially

DESIGN BY JANIE INGRASSIA, ART BY AIDAN CHANG

since we get tested so often it would be good to have a COVID verification, just to know that your last couple tests were negative and if you are comfortable meeting in person, if you’re comfortable with six feet apart, or masks, or no masks.” Frequent COVID testing at Tufts can be a way of helping people make an informed decision about which potential partners they should meet, but Alfred warned, “Testing…is not at all a preventative measure, it’s only a tracking measure. Somebody who’s getting tested frequently isn’t any less likely to have COVID than someone who’s not getting tested.” The most popular date option on the survey was outdoor socially distanced dates, with 40 percent of respondents saying this was the type of date they were most comfortable with. Alfred said, “In this moment of really high cases…our advice is not even to social distance date. But if you do decide to go on an in-person date, outside, six feet apart, masks on reduces the risk.” On the survey, those who did go on virtual or socially distanced dates noted good experiences and were able to become close despite the lack of physical contact. Long-distance relationships can also be made more difficult by trying to make plans during COVID. Alfred said, “If you are in a long-distance relationship and that’s something that you both decided, that you’re going to travel to see each other…[It’s important to] think about the compounded effects of what would happen if you were to get coronavirus either during travel or while seeing your partner.” But an anonymous student who broke off a new relationship shortly after going back to his hometown in March said, “I had to tell her, what’s the point? I never wanted a long-distance relationship. And I didn’t know when the school would let us come back or when we would be back in the same place.” Several survey respondents also reported that they felt a push towards having monogamous relationships, rather than interacting with multiple casual partners,

as a way to have companionship while limiting their exposure. Lai said, “COVID kind of amplifies the feeling of being single. When you see people in relationships, you feel like, ‘What if [lockdown] happens again? I’ll be alone again.’” New cases in Massachusetts have reached a second peak, and are in fact higher than they have been since the beginning of the pandemic. Staying safe can make the search for romance feel dangerous and disheartening. For those looking for companionship beyond dating and hookup apps, Tufts students have been creating unique solutions. Avni Ambalam, a member of the Tufts Marriage Pact team, said, “I started changing the marketing where at the start it was like, ‘Oh you haven’t found the one yet in college? Here’s your chance.’ I feel like that would appeal more to seniors. But stuff like ‘make a new friend’ or ‘meet someone new’ would appeal more to underclassmen because they haven’t had that chance…‘Let’s meet new people’ worked better than stuff like finding the one or finding your true love.” The team credited in part the marketing strategy around making new friends with the Marriage Pact’s popularity at Tufts and said that the platform was most popular with freshmen and least popular with seniors. For Lai, COVID has colored his dating life so much that he said, “The first thing I use to break the ice is ‘How have you been during the pandemic?’” Lai said that even if he doesn’t start the conversation, his dates often ask him the same question. Tufts Marriage Pact team member Anne Lau said, “We thought if this actually does work, and if people get on board, then it would help make the COVID situation a little better. And so I think that that also led to our marketing being more like, ‘End 2020 on a good note,’ essentially.” The ways that people have adapted love and relationships while staying safe keep social life on campus alive during the pandemic, even if dating at Tufts in 2020 looks very different than it has in any other year.

“The first thing I use to break the ice is ‘How have you been during the pandemic?’”

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 27


VOICES

MISSED CONNECTION It was the summer I stopped eating cheese. All dairy, in fact. And eggs. Beef, pork, chicken, the entirety of it. The starving spring had overturned into a sweaty June. I’d wake up to the smell of black coffee, hot. Then a 40-minute run along the Maryland and DC border. Swamp season. The humidity of the suburbs melted the trash cans and choked all the flowers. Two miles in and I was a mess of muscles and blood, threatening to burst under a blazing sun. Afterward, I would be greeted by the privilege of air-conditioning—the cool, dry air allowing millions of dew droplets to form on my skin. I’d lay there, roadkill skeleton, on the floor of my living room. And to fill my empty mind, I’d turn to the ravages of internet discussion boards. You know how it is—that diet of discourse, diatribes.

28 TUFTS OBSERVER DECEMBER 11, 2020

Cue Craigslist: the neighborhood’s anonymous discussion forum. I’d scroll through rants & raves, gigs, services. People searched for caretakers to attend to their bedridden grandmothers, while others sought last-minute lovers to do them dirty behind a truck stop. The website was a glimpse into the unexpected mind of the city dweller. And Missed Connections was the dessert of the experience. These posts featured lonely strangers shouting into cyberspace about hair color and height, hoping for a whisper back. Girl at Breakheart Reservation. We should get together. Holiday Stress Release. Be Mine Forever and Ever and Ever. These were people hungry for affection. A professor advised me in storytelling: a person’s desire can become their

By Akbota Saudabayeva character. In that sense, we are all writing ourselves with want. It’s something that human beings can recognize about one another. We are all so familiar. The quirk of an eyebrow, the upturn of a lip. Reaching hands. Remember me? I’m the smell of your favorite boy’s cologne. I’m the eyes of your high school best friend. I’m your perfect stranger. We can have each other, but we will not. It would haunt me all week— on the floor, on my runs, on the metro. All the people that I would never know, that I would never talk to, never touch. How every space was so full of sparks waiting to be ignited. It was actually through Craigslist that I found my part-time gig for the summer: a market position for Three Springs Fruit Farm. Around four hours, twice a week for


VOICES

$80 a shift. Free groceries, and apples by the bushel. It was a good deal. The farmer’s market was to be in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood that required both a bus ride and a later line transfer on the metro. I liked the trip. The transportation time glided past me, softened by the glances of university students and the napping service workers around me. Everything that summer was so public. The fruit stand in question was set up at the squeaky corner of Park Road and 14th Street, where it jutted out onto a busy intersection. A fountain crowned its head, attracting both children and diseased birds to play in its waters. The sky sat heavy with rain. Homeless men speckled the benches and mumbled to themselves, wary of the overcast season, the dirty benches, the policemen at the end of the sidewalk. They were always looking to start trouble. As the first raindrops dotted the pavement, the mothers of the park swaddled their little ones in their own sweet-smelling sweaters. Under the clouds of the afternoon, the families lined up on the corner for their supplemental food checks. The chatter of the shoppers melded with the oncoming thunder. My job was to fill the holes in the display and to man the register, rounding each purchase down to the nearest quar-

ter. Fairytale eggplants, okra to be pickled, and dewy apples glistened in their arrangements. The peaches and penumbras waited by the cashier. All the things to eat laid out like jewels at a bazaar. All the things to pick, to pluck, to bite. My working partners circled around the stand, weighing down its legs with bags of sand. The wind was picking up. The raindrops had gathered on the roof of the tent, and rivers of water descended on the produce, melting all the green containers of raspberries and wild blueberries. I let a man with dirty fingernails steal a handful of gooseberries. The air’s weight refused to dissipate, weighing down upon the shoulders of my employees and the people waiting in line. I continued to shovel paper checks into the cash register. The stomach of the sky grumbled. And like lightning, I did not notice the body until it was right in front of me. Like a flash of something horrible. A small halo of stewed tomato red adorned his head, and his hands splayed out around him like a tarot card illustration. In a few movements, he crumpled up like a newborn baby. There was a woman on the phone, waving her hand around and exclaiming curt curses in Spanish. Another man called him a drunkard. All the eyes in the world lay upon the man, but the bodies to which they belonged stayed put, lest the check

DESIGN BY KATE BOWERS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK MILEWSKI

line would move forward. And I took check after check after check. They say that what is saving you from hurt is also blinding you. The rain cascaded down in wide, wet footsteps. I could see him in the corner of my eye. Yes, in the corner of my eye—I could see him sleeping with no breath. He will never eat again. That is what I thought. When the EMT cleaned him later, they took him away and left no trace. The man still dances around, clumsy drunk he is, in the park of my mind. I’d sit in the coffee darkness of my room, licking over my teeth. I wondered what he planned to buy at the market. The cherries and crabapples, all of them sweet to tongue and sound to eye. The hungriest hands and the overwhelming lots of food. It was a scene of depravity and abundance. And there was that gurgling void in my story of that afternoon—I only had what I saw and heard and consumed: Latino Man in his 40s to 50s. Mustached. Plaid vest and raggedy jeans. Slipped and hit his head on the ground near my farmer’s market tent. My missing connection. This was the post I had drafted and saved for many fruitless months. I never sent it. The lighter would not have sparked, for the rain.

DECEMBER 11, 2020 TUFTS OBSERVER 29


Profile for Tufts Observer

Issue 4 Fall 2020  

Tufts Observer Issue 4 Fall 2020 - Tension

Issue 4 Fall 2020  

Tufts Observer Issue 4 Fall 2020 - Tension

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