Top Stories of 2020

In a year dominated by COVID-19, we’re highlighting stories that looked past the pandemic
Nine small photos in a grid. In a year dominated by COVID-19, Tufts Now highlights stories that looked past the pandemic
Photo collage: Momo Shinzawa
December 21, 2020

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The big story this year was clearly the pandemic, which writers at Tufts Now have been busy covering, from our first story on Jan. 27, “Should We Be Worried About the Coronavirus Emerging from China?”—clearly, the answer was “yes”—to, almost 100 stories later, “Four Things Experts Have Learned from the Pandemic.”

But that’s certainly not all we wrote and produced; we cover everything related to the wider Tufts community—faculty, students, alumni, and staff. For our curated list of some of the most popular stories of 2020, we start with those that aren’t centered on the pandemic.

Photo: Courtesy of Roger Williams Park ZooA Deadly Rabbit Virus Spreads in the U.S.

An emerging virus threatens both wild and pet rabbits in the United States. The fatal virus—which causes an Ebola-like disease called rabbit hemorrhagic disease—already has been reported in the western and southwestern United States. “Once the virus gets into the wild-rabbit population, there’s no way to stop it from rapidly spreading and becoming endemic,” said Jennifer Graham, head of Cummings School’s zoological companion animal medicine service.

Photo: MBTANew MBTA Green Line Station Named “Medford/Tufts”

“Medford/Tufts” will be the name of the new Green Line station at the intersection of College and Boston Avenues in Medford following an agreement announced between Tufts University and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The Green Line Extension will extend the northern end of the Green Line from Lechmere to Union Square in Somerville and College Avenue in Medford, next to the Tufts University campus.

Photo: APRacial Segregation and Policing in America

What led to George Floyd’s death—and that of many other Black Americans at the hands of police across the country—wasn’t just the actions of individual police officers, but also a result of systemic issues stemming from how policing is done in communities nationwide, said Daanika Gordon, an assistant professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Photo: Alonso NicholsOur Brains, Our Selves

“One of the problems with defining consciousness is that it’s several different things—and it means different things to different people,” said Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy at Tufts since 1971, a University Professor since 2000, and longtime co-director of the university’s Center for Cognitive Sciences. “There is a sense of consciousness in which starfish are conscious. Worms are conscious. Even trees, even bacteria are conscious. But there’s one dividing line between the amoeba and the professor in the consciousness department, which really marks off a huge difference: language.”

Photo: IngimageBusting Myths About Red Meat

“More than half of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions resolve to ‘eat healthier.’ If you’re one, you might be confused about the role meat should play in your health,” wrote Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Policy and Science. “It’s no wonder you’re confused. One group of scientists says that reducing red and processed meat is a top priority for your health and the planet’s. Another says these foods pose no problems for health.”

Photo: Lisa Miller/University of MinnesotaThe Long History of Xenophobia in America

“Xenophobia doesn’t just reveal itself through a bigoted relative who is saying stuff about ‘the Mexicans’ at Thanksgiving dinner,” said Erika Lee, J92. “Xenophobia is a form of racism that has been embedded in our laws.” One way to overcome the alienation that xenophobia brings is to combat the negative stereotypes about immigrants and refugees, and help see them as fellow human beings just like us, Lee said.

They Said Her Admittance Was a Mistake. And Yet, She Persisted

If she had been even slightly less persistent than she was, Jessie Gideon Garnett might not have been the first African American woman to graduate from the Tufts School of Dental Medicine, which she did in 1919. As it was, when she arrived for registration, the dean of the school took one look at her and declared that her admittance had been a mistake. “She stood her ground and said, ‘Oh no, here is my acceptance letter,’” said her daughter, Ella Garnett, in 2010.

Photo: Serena BoltonDiscovering a Father’s World War II Secrets

As she recounts in her book When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father, Survival, and What Remains, Ariana Neumann, J92, discovered that 25 of the 34 members of her father’s family in Czechoslovakia had been killed in concentration camps—and that her father had survived by fleeing under a false name to the unlikeliest of places, Berlin. There he hid in plain sight for two years, pretending to be a non-Jewish Czech too absorbed in his science to take offense at Nazi views.

Shows to Stream with Tufts Connections

If you’re binge-watching TV shows and movies during this pandemic, you can maintain your connection to Tufts by streaming these choices, which feature Tufts alumni in front of or behind the camera. From The Simpsons and Mad Men to West Wing, this sampler of work by Tufts entertainers will help keep your virus worries at bay.

Photo: Alonso NicholsWhy Engineering? We Asked Five Women

As more women enter the School of Engineering—their numbers equaling those of men in the Class of 2024—it’s clear that challenging opportunities with far-reaching impact are a big draw. But what’s the perspective of Tufts’ up-and-coming women engineers themselves? Why did they choose such a career? And how have their professional goals developed over time? We asked some of them to share their stories.

Learning from the Pandemic

Of course, the biggest story of 2020 was COVID-19 and its impact on all of us. Instead of focusing on some of the newsier stories, we’re highlighting popular ones that can help us understand what’s been happening and how the pandemic will affect us going forward.

How the Body Battles COVID-19 — An immunologist explains how the body’s defense system takes on viruses, and why sometimes it loses the fight.

What Are Viruses and How Do They Work? — A Tufts researcher explains the tiny infectious agents that can wreak havoc globally.

Home Learning for Kids and Parents Amid COVID-19 — Advice for turning time away from school into an opportunity for new types of learning.

How Animals Help Us During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Pets can provide company and comfort in the face of social isolation and high anxiety.

Why People of Color Are Suffering More from COVID-19 — The health disparities faced by people of color are shown in stark relief by the pandemic, say Tufts experts.

How COVID-19 Has Affected Special Education Students — Of all K-12 students, those with special needs are especially hard hit by the pandemic, say Tufts special education experts.

How Will COVID-19 Affect Public Spaces? — Lessons from a Pandemic video: Cities adapted in the past to pandemics, and one place to start is in parks, says a Tufts urban planning professor.

Coping with Anxiety in a Time of Pandemic — A psychology professor answers questions about worry and fear—and what we can do to help.

How Does Art Change Our Perceptions of COVID-19? — Lessons from a Pandemic video: The way the coronavirus is illustrated can influence how we feel about it, says a Tufts art professor.

Quarantine Eats — Three Tufts alumni share tips for quick and creative cooking during the pandemic.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.