A Positive Approach to Health and Safety Amid COVID-19

Tufts COVID education ambassadors encourage mask wearing and social distancing to improve safety for students on campus and residents in the community

Brian Felter (pictured left), A21, and Nkem Aduka, A21, are two of approximately 120 students involved with the COVID education ambassador program.

Returning to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adjusting to a new normal for students.

To emphasize the importance of following COVID-19 protocols during the Fall 2020 semester, the COVID education ambassador program, a collaboration between Tufts administration and students supervised by Ian Wong, Director of the Department of Health Promotion and Prevention, and Timothy Jordan, Assistant Director of Residential Education, was formed. The program encourages everyone on campus to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines through an emphasis on positive interactions with students, as opposed to disciplining those who aren’t following protocols.

Nkem Aduka, A21, a community health major and an urban studies minor, and Brian Felter, A21, a biology and psychology double major, are two of approximately 120 students involved with the program. Aduka and Felter serve as two of about 25 team leaders—doing everything from coordinating supplies to managing teams—for respective team members, who are responsible for walking around the Tufts campus and actively encouraging students to follow guidelines during set shifts.

Tufts Now recently asked Aduka and Felter about the goals of the COVID education ambassador program, why being a part of it is important, and its impact on the community.

What are the goals of the COVID education ambassador program?

Felter: The whole program is meant to provide an education-based and social norming approach to encourage students to wear masks on campus and maintain social distancing guidelines without introducing punitive measures or having to act as an authority.

Aduka: Our primary goals are to remind students to wear masks and to social-distance. We’re really trying to be positive and encouraging when we approach students, so instead of just telling people to wear a mask, we ask “Hey, do you guys need a mask?” or say, “We just want to remind you to wear a mask.” We want to keep everyone safe, so we are trying our best to have positive interactions with students.

What are your roles as ambassadors? What does a typical day look like?

Felter: I am one of the team leaders. Team leaders coordinate all team members, answer any questions they may have, and fill in if someone can’t make a shift. We can also accompany team members just in case they feel they would benefit from having an extra person there, especially if there is a large group of people in a zone, and we help if team members need masks or any other supplies. But the team members are primarily the ones that walk around campus during shifts.

Audka: Currently, we are working evening shifts every day except Sundays. There were eight different zones, now condensed to three zones, that we walk around in on campus to make sure that everyone’s wearing a mask. Usually, two team members are assigned per zone. Shifts are short—two hours each—and some days there is a 10 p.m. to midnight shift, so we are checking in on people who are walking around at night, which is important. Team leaders will check in with team members in every zone throughout the shift.

What motivated you to be a part of the COVID education ambassador program?

Aduka: It is exciting and fun to have a job on campus that is directly related to public health and actively improving health on campus, so I really thought that was important. Being on campus is a sense of normalcy for students during these unprecedented times and I felt that being on the COVID education team would play a large role in safely keeping students on campus.

Felter: It’s important for me personally because it makes me feel like I have a bit more influence on what happens. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve felt like I have no control over anything. But if I can encourage students to follow guidelines, it makes me feel like we can handle this. We can accomplish a successful semester on campus, and year, I hope.

Why do you believe being a COVID education ambassador at Tufts is so important right now?

Aduka: I think it’s very important, because, as Tufts students, we’re also inhabiting the greater community. It’s got us thinking about something bigger than ourselves; we go to school in Medford and Somerville, so not only should we keep ourselves safe, but we should keep residents living in these cities safe, too.

Felter: I want to influence people in a positive way and have a positive impact in making sure everyone can stay on campus, as well as stay healthy, and that we’re not in any way harming the surrounding communities. We’re helping to create and maintain a system of people following guidelines for the good of the community, and for the good of the neighboring communities.

Sara Norberg can be reached at sara.norberg@tufts.edu.

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