For the Sake of Humanities: Addressing the Facilities Divide at Tufts
ART BY ANNICA GROTE
Humanities students returned to a sweltering disappointment this fall, as near-record-breaking temperatures forced multiple humanities classes—most of which are non-air conditioned and sparsely windowed—to end early. These incidents have revived frustrations surrounding the humanities-STEM facility divide, one that seems to prioritize science, technology, engineering, and mathematics facilities over their humanities counterparts.
As the $90 million Joyce Cummings Center approaches its two-year anniversary, Eaton Hall remains under construction, its first major renovation project in almost 60 years just recently making headway. Lincoln Filene Hall, described by former Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont as “a crappy building” needing “more renovation than it’s worth,” remains home to several humanities classes and departments. Students in Braker Hall fan themselves with folded-up poems and crumpled study guides while professors in Miner Hall search the floor for nubs of chalk with which to write the date.
These scenes juxtapose a more comfortable existence in STEM buildings like the Science and Engineering Complex, which houses departments like biology and mechanical engineering and includes amenities like kitchenettes, gender-neutral and accessible bathrooms, an outdoor patio, JumboPrint stations, and Kindlevan Café. For STEM students, learning environments are comfortable and collaborative, leaving many in the humanities to question Tufts’ priorities.
“It makes me feel like we’re just being neglected,” said third-year English major Natalie Bricker. “It really does count for a lot when you’re physically comfortable in a class and you can actually focus on what’s being taught.”
Bricker was walking into her first day of “Black World Literature” in Lane Hall this September when the classroom temperature overtook her. “It was too hot to think,” she said. The professor ended class just halfway through the lecture, reflecting the decisions of other humanities professors facing similar conditions.
One such professor was James Lipsky, a lecturer for the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development with a focus on American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. Through an ASL interpreter, Lipsky explained that for his classroom to function, students must be able to sit in a semicircle where both himself and a projector are visible. “ASL is a visual language,” he emphasized. “When I sign, everyone needs to see me signing.”
However, this year, the Office of the Registrar moved his class from Anderson Hall to Bromfield-Pearson. Anderson Hall was last renovated in 2017 with the completion of the SEC and includes a number of sign language-accessible features like open rooms and visible monitors. Bromfield-Pearson, as Lipsky came to find out, was a decidedly worse fit. “I thought [the move] might be a good idea… but I did not expect so many chairs to be in there and for the screen to be above the board,” Lipsky explained. “I was wrenching my neck to look back, and it was too hard for me to point out different things.” After complaints to the Office of the Registrar, the class was returned to Anderson Hall.
Another one of Lipsky’s classes was suspended due to uncomfortably high classroom temperatures. “They said that the city turned [the AC] off. Anderson Hall had AC, but this building did not, so I didn’t understand,” he said. “I had two classes, and by the second class I had to stop… it was just too hot.”
Lipsky’s experience is not unique. Instead, it seems to be just one of many examples of institutional failings when it comes to the humanities.
Part of the issue is caused by discrepancies in donations. The JCC, for example, was primarily funded by a multi-million-dollar donation from the Cummings Foundation, founded by real estate mogul and Tufts alum Bill Cummings (LA58). The same group made a $50 million donation to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2004, the largest endowment in Tufts history.
Beyond donations, though, many hold the loss of Eaton Hall responsible for much of the current disparity.
Eaton Hall, originally opened in 1908 as the university library, served as the central hub for humanities departments beginning in 1965. In 2020, after the collapse of a ceiling in Room 202, the building was officially closed for renovation. Today, Eaton Hall remains under construction and is not expected to reopen until the next academic year.
Heather Curtis, the Warren S. Woodbridge professor of religion and director of the Center for Humanities at Tufts, accredits Eaton’s absence to the current disparity in facilities. “While Eaton is offline being renovated, it’s been really challenging, at least within my department, to have excellent spaces for humanities teaching,” she said.
The loss of Eaton Hall has forced the redistribution of humanities classes across several older buildings like Braker, Lincoln Filene, and Miner Halls, many of which are not equipped for the number and diversity of courses currently being taught. “There are two kinds of teaching in the humanities. There’s sort of a larger lecture course…and there are small humanities discussion seminars,” explained Curtis. While, in her own experience, larger lecture classes are reasonably easy to find, “Right now it’s almost impossible to find a space [for the small humanities discussion seminars].”
Curtis suggested that although the SEC and JCC currently serve as undeniable examples of superior STEM facilities, the opening of Eaton will restore feelings of equity among the humanities. “There really isn’t a signature building for the humanities, so I feel like Eaton is going to be a step in that direction.”
The loss of Eaton Hall raises interesting questions regarding the concept of place, particularly as it relates to one’s sense of belonging and inclusion.
Professor Cathy Stanton, a distinguished senior lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Environmental Studies, has been studying the anthropological “place” for much of her career. She explained that “a sense of a center” is key to creating place within a community. “[Good places] shouldn’t just be an amorphous, atomized kind of space. There needs to be cohesion and comprehensibility,” she said.
This kind of cohesion is important not only because it creates structure but also because it creates a sense of belonging. “Campus communities are really strange and complicated… We have to make a sense of home and belonging very quickly with a whole bunch of strangers,” said Stanton. “If you’re inclined to feel like you’re not quite sure that you belong to begin with, then having a space that doesn’t open its arms to you… is maybe [going to] underscore that.”
Like Curtis, Stanton believes that the return of Eaton could restore a sense of cohesion to the humanities. “We had that over in Eaton, and we’re hoping to have it again.”
Some, though, are less willing to sit and wait. After leaving her “Black World Literature” class on that sweaty first day, Bricker sent an email to Dean of Students Camille Lizarríbar and Associate Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Kraft demanding working AC in Lane Hall. “I was feeling really frustrated,” she explained. “I kind of felt like, at this point, I needed to make some noise.”
In this instance, the noise was heard, and Lane Hall had AC by the following Thursday. Bricker, though, remained skeptical. “I don’t really know if my email led to things being fixed because I also filed a work order and called a number that I found on the department site.” She never received a response from either of the deans.
How much credit, then, does Tufts deserve for their handling of the facilities divide? As humanities director, Curtis suggested perhaps more than some are giving them.
“[Tufts] really has been addressing one thing at a time within budgetary resources to make the humanities spaces better,” she explained. “The new provost and the new vice provost are both really dedicated to the humanities and do seem to be aware of how important the humanities are to Tufts and to academic inquiry more broadly.”
In terms of fostering an anthropological “place” for students and community building on campus, Stanton, too, believes that Tufts is heading in the right direction. “They’ve got a long triage of what needs doing first. Some of it is opportunistic, some of it has to do with donors,” Stanton said. “But I do feel like the admin is paying attention and cares about the physical, spatial, and inclusive kind of experience that students have.”
In a written statement to the Tufts Observer, the Office of the Registrar maintained that they do not prioritize any department or group of subjects over another and that their team is constantly looking for ways to advance and refine the scheduling process.
For some, though, it will take more than promises of things to come to restore the trust lost. “I want to give Tufts credit. I so badly want to say thank you for treating humanities majors the same [as STEM majors], but I can’t say that right now. So it just makes me really frustrated,” sighed Bricker. “I just don’t feel like we’re a priority at Tufts.”