Please Mind the Platform Gap (Universities Edition): Tufts University

Reading Time: 9 minutes

By Michelle Zhu (15A01B) and Kang Yi Xi (15S03N)
Photos courtesy of Ashlynna Ng

Thinking about which university to apply to, or already a J2 beginning your early admission applications? Raffles Press brings you our Please Mind the Platform Gap (Universities Edition), a series of articles dedicated to providing information on Rafflesian alumni’s experiences at their respective universities. Read our previous interview with NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine undergraduate Wilnard Tan here, University of Cambridge undergraduate Samantha Chan here, MIT undergraduate Liu Aofei here, and Harvard undergraduate Chew Chia Shao Wei here.

Nestled in the picturesque and charming outskirts of Boston, Tufts University is one of the more esteemed universities in America – the 25th best in the nation overall, according to Forbes. In fact, its famous college mascot, Jumbo the Elephant (an actual elephant preserved via taxidermy that was destroyed in a fire in 1975) is the only college mascot with an entry in Webster’s Dictionary. Raffles Press interviewed freshman Ashlynna Ng, who graduated from RI in 2013, to gain some insight about the rich and vibrant student life characteristic of the university.

Press (P): Why did you choose to study at Tufts?

Ashlynna (A): The number one reason I chose Tufts was because of what I could gather about the school culture: a student body that was unashamedly passionate about their respective causes and a learning environment based on the “belief that intellectual discourse and discovery serve the common good” (according to the Tufts Bulletin). This seemed like a “good fit” – the catch phrase of college selection. After I started looking at Tufts, all the other reasons naturally fell into place: the great location (situated in the suburbs but 20 minutes from Boston), the perfect class size (1,300 per batch – big enough so you never know everybody but small enough so that you feel a sense of community), the great international relations/political science program and the activist community.

P: Tell us about Tufts and the course you’re currently in.

A: Tufts is a liberal arts school, which means students only have to declare their major at the end of sophomore year. This gives you the space to explore your different academic interests and customize your own learning, which has made school incredibly enjoyable. I’ve tried out an Introduction to Acting class and an Urban and Environmental Planning class on Housing Policy before finally deciding on these four classes: an Anthropology class on Unsustainable Agriculture, a History class on the Rise of the Modern Woman, a Political Science and Philosophy class on Western Political Thought and an Experimental College class called Class Matters on social class.

The Women’s Center

P: What are the enrichment programmes and/or extracurricular activities you’re involved in?

A: For extracurricular activities, Tufts has over 300 different groups. During the activities fair, I think I signed up to be on the mailing list for about 50 of those clubs *laughs*. The best thing about it really, is that there is a genuine sense of passion abound – things are not done for hours or credentials, but they are done simply because there are those who  genuinely believe in a cause, or enjoy doing something. This approach changes the nature of meetings and how things are run, and is a constant source of inspiration for me. The school is also very supportive of different interests, and as long as you can gather like-minded peers, you can turn your club into a reality! The Cheese Club is one of the clubs that were newly established this year (Yes. A club dedicated to Cheese.). Currently, I am in the Singapore Students Association, the Tufts Sustainability Collective, the Urban Policy, Planning and Prosperity club, the Tufts Mountain Club and am an Admissions Outreach Officer.

Besides my club meetings and commitments, I also usually attend the “lunch and learn” sessions organized every Thursday by the Tufts Environmental Studies Program, where speakers are brought in to speak about various environmental topics. On Fridays, I head to the Women’s Center for SAGE (Students Acting for Gender Equality) advice. SAGE is a peer advice and mentoring group that focuses on the college transition and the role of gender in our lives. Besides interesting talks by academic experts, politicians, artists and writers, there are also many social events organized by different groups every week and there’s just something to do all the time!

Ashlynna (second from right) and her hallmates all decked out for Halloween
Ashlynna (second from right) and her hallmates all decked out for Halloween

P: What other extracurricular activities/enrichment activities does Tufts offer? Is there anything particularly noteworthy/interesting?

A: Tufts has a great Quidditch team called The Tufflepuffs! It’s always awesome to watch them play or practice because who wouldn’t want to see Harry Potter magic brought to life? Dance, theater and music, especially acapella, is another big thing at Tufts! And also – wait for it – The Tufts Beezlebubs recorded as the voice of the Warblers in Glee! Yes, I was also in shock when I realized that I go to school with these talented people. There is also the Group of 6 – the Africana, Asian American, International, Latino, LGBT and Women’s Centers, special houses dedicated to exploring social identities and their impacts on our lives. All students are welcome at every center, which organizes regular discussion sessions and events. Most centers also have a peer leader system for freshmen, which is a great help for transitioning into college!

P: Are there any major university-wide events or traditions?

A: There are so many university wide events and traditions, I don’t know where to begin! One super cool tradition that we have is the painting of the cannon – a Civil War artifact on the campus. The story goes that it was first painted white as a protest during the Vietnam War (but no one can remember for sure what was being protested), and since then, painting the cannon has been a means of promoting certain events, groups, or anything at all, really. Any group can paint the cannon, but the twist is that you can only do it at night, and must defend the cannon valiantly from other groups who may also want to cover the cannon with awesomeness. The competition can get pretty intense, but that’s part of the fun and you get to bond with all your friends!

Another tradition that I recently experienced is that on Halloween day, the school wakes up to a campus magically covered in pumpkins in the craziest of places – on top of the flagpole (and our flagpole is huge), trees and buildings. It’s really pretty amazing.

The Tufts Cannon painted by Tufts Film Series to create hype for their screening of X-Men: First Class
The Tufts Cannon painted by Tufts Film Series to create hype for their screening of X-Men: First Class

P: Do students really only eat cup noodles all the time?

A: Haha, no! It is compulsory for freshmen at Tufts to be on an unlimited meal plan (a major cause of the dreaded freshman 15), so it’s quite easy to swipe into the dining hall to grab something to eat, twice, thrice, or more times a day. Plus, two of the main dining halls are buffet-styled, and the food is pretty good. Of course, things may change when it starts snowing and the deadlines for final papers approach, but for now, I think you can consider this myth busted!

P: Are there ample opportunities to get to know students from other courses? How close are you to them? Is it hard to make new friends in university?

A: There are two undergraduate schools – the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, and there are definitely enough opportunities for students from both schools to get to know each other, because you can take classes at both schools. Furthermore, all extra-curricular activities are open to everyone. I have a friend who isn’t studying engineering but is in the club interested in promoting engineering to women!

Tufts has pre-orientation and orientation programs which are a great start for making new friends. It’s also really easy to become friends with your hall mates simply because you live together, share a common room and bathroom facilities, and see them every day. Other than that, I find that going for club meetings or talks are also great for meeting interesting people. However, you do have to make the effort to meet up with the people you want to develop a deeper relationship with, because if you don’t live in the same hall or have the same classes, it’s possible that you may go weeks without seeing them.

P: Does the school have a strong school spirit? How do people demonstrate it?

A: GO JUMBOS!! I think it says something that almost every Tufts person I know owns something elephant-related, be it an elephant soft toy, elephant clothes, elephant key-chains … We definitely rally around our mascot (Jumbo pride!), our quirkiness, our university president (President Monaco!) and even one of the cashiers at the dining hall whom everyone loves (Idah!). I guess it’s easy for everyone to love the school, because we chose to be here, and it’s easy to find a place where you belong.

Going to a football game was an amazing experience where you see the really strong school spirit. Before this season, Tufts Football had been on a four-year losing streak. Still, at the Homecoming game this year, the stands were filled with students and alumni alike. There were a bunch of topless people who wrote the letters T, U, F, T, S on their stomachs jumping up and down enthusiastically; everyone was in Tufts gear and cheering along. The cheering was spontaneous and thunderous – no one had to lead or force other people to cheer along (haha) and the atmosphere was electrifying.

Enthusiastic students at the university’s Homecoming game
Enthusiastic students at the university’s Homecoming game

P: What’s the general ambience of the campus like?

A: The campus has a very endearing feeling; it’s comfortable and unpretentious, probably because the buildings are low-rise and mostly red brick. A lot of the academic office buildings are houses, so that gives it a nice, neighborhood feel too. It’s a very beautiful campus – I’ll be walking along to class and suddenly I’ll stop in my tracks, look around at the beautiful trees with the falling red leaves, the cosy buildings and the people and think, “Wow, I’m in the school of my dreams.”

P: Are there any negative experiences you’ve had in the school? 

A: Being a racial minority has been a “negative experience” which has yielded positive lessons, because it has helped me better understand what some of my friends in Singapore go through. I was talking to my Indian friend about the “otherness” I sometimes felt here and he replied, “I’ve been a minority all my life/I roughly know,” which really dragged the concept of Chinese privilege into my consciousness. In that sense, I think it’s sad that we don’t live in a world where race no longer matters, so it is natural for us to feel a bit out of place and alienated at the start.

The President's Lawn
The President’s Lawn

P: Did/do you feel homesick? Does the university provide student support?

A: I mostly just wish my family and friends could be here, experiencing all these exciting new things with me. I was homesick for the first three days after my arrival, but once I started getting involved, I forged a new place for myself here, growing a sense of attachment and belonging to the people and the place. I also love the Singaporean community at Tufts, and being around them makes home feel less far away. And for all the initial difficulties I faced, I was glad that I was facing them in Tufts: a supportive, accepting place, where you never quite feel alone.

One thing I really appreciate about Tufts is the many safe spaces that it provides for students. As mentioned earlier, the Group of 6 is a great resource on campus that is welcoming and accepting, and creates an environment where you can share your problems, as well as find people who empathize and can give you support. And they accept people of all identities – for instance, I recently attended a dinner cum discussion session at the Latino Center. Not only did we have great Brazilian food, we also had a really deep 13-way heart-to-heart talk, where everyone present shared about their struggles and experiences in college as a Latino (or in my case, a minority). The atmosphere was one of non-judgment and acceptance, support and love. It was also really eye-opening to learn about some of the cultural challenges Latinos face; moreover, the points of similarities raised and the number of issues that I could identify and empathize with also helped to remind me of our common humanity. I’ve had similar deep connections with others at the Asian American Center as well as the Women’s Center.

Counselling is a useful (and free!) resource. It doesn’t have the same kind of stigma as I felt there was back in Singapore – it’s totally okay to admit you are facing problems in your life, and that you may need someone to hear you out and guide you along. They have a variety of programs, like animal therapy (they have a puppy!) or meditation or discussion groups for various topics.

The staff and students are also very helpful and try their best to reach out to people, and as an international student I’ve definitely benefited. The small class size makes it possible to build a relationship with your adviser as a mentor, but also on a more equal level that you don’t really see in high school. I call my adviser by his first name, and he always has such fatherly concern for how I’m doing at Tufts. He also gets to know me as a person – my passions, the difficulties I’m facing and so on. I also have Peer Leaders from the Women’s Center and the Asian American Center, and they, along with my Resident Adviser, have all been a great support to me. There are just so many ways which Tufts supports you in your development!

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