Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 19:04
The Tisch Library earlier this month hosted a gallery to bring awareness to issues of sexual assault as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness month. The gallery’s title was “Faces oM Survivors: Voices Reclaimed,” but according to some of the survivors meant to be featured, their voices were silenced rather than reclaimed.
Four undisclosed female Tufts students were approached by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) staff and asked to write about their experiences as survivors of sexual assault. Their stories were supposed to be featured alongside a photograph of a part of each woman’s body, which would not reveal any identifying characteristics.
But the piece was never featured in the gallery, because some of the statements referenced specific allegations that would have required the university to conduct an investigation before displaying them. Discussing issues of sexual assault requires the utmost sensitivity, and the administration failed in this regard. Instead, four women were deprived of the chance to share their stories due to poor planning and communication by the administration.
The public airing of sexual assault experiences, no matter what the context, is almost certain to run into some legal red tape. These experiences are extremely personal, emotional and controversial, and the university should have made clear to the survivors long before the planned gallery was created the level of specificity that was acceptable in their accounts. Senior Director of Health and Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler’s claim that this issue only surfaced a few days before the display was set to open is not sufficient.
Perhaps more problematic is the fact that one of the students was allegedly asked to rewrite her story into something that would be less likely to require a university investigation. Although the Daily is not privy to the specific details that the student who originally submitted the text was asked to edit out of her submission, she has said that it was due to the fact that her statement specifically mentioned Tufts. The edited version would have disassociated the testimony from the university in a way that the student felt diminished its authenticity. This is especially concerning because when it comes to limiting free speech, Tufts’ administration has an inconsistent history.
This issue is also disturbing from a moral standpoint. It deprives these students of the opportunity to express themselves that they deserve. These women were told they would have the chance to display both their experiences and bodies and were deprived of it at the last second. The gallery was also meant to provide a voice for the narratives of the abused, and it has managed to do the opposite — the survivors were silenced rather than empowered. And displaying their stories would have made a much more powerful statement to the Tufts community, because most of the other pictures and statements were from non-Tufts survivors.
This gallery would have been an excellent opportunity to showcase the voices of sexual assault survivors, and the administration’s failure to take advantage of it is an affront both to survivors and to this community.