Former Amherst student’s account of sexual assault prompts reflection on Tufts’ policies
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 8, 2012 08:11
On Oct. 17, Angie Epifano’s “An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College” was published in the Amherst Student, the independent newspaper of Amherst College. Within days, Epifano’s story had been retold by various news sources, including Slate and feminist blog Jezebel.
Epifano’s account shed light on what she considers systemic mistakes by Amherst’s administration, including the use of disciplinary hearings with both parties involved present. At Tufts, both students and administration have taken notice of Epifano’s story and reflected on the University’s own history and policies of sexual misconduct.
“Clearly the Amherst story is very upsetting and, unfortunately, we’ve been doing this work a long time and ... looking at the issue of sexual assault on college campuses across the country for years,” Senior Director of Health and Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler said. “I think that everyone acknowledges that these situations can and do occur, which is why so many people have been working as hard as they are to make changes in campuses all around the country.”
Sophomore Kumar Ramanathan, a member of Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) and a contributing writer at the Daily, agrees with Bowdler and believes that change in both policy and culture must occur before misconduct can be prevented.
“I thought [Epifano speaking out] was a very brave thing to do and I was glad she did it. Unfortunately, it’s a story that isn’t new or even rare,” Ramanathan said. “One of the foci is the way the administration dealt with her case, but I think one part that gets ignored is also the culture on campus that perpetuates this aura of silence and secrecy and having to carry a burden without having support.”
For Ramanathan, Epifano’s story evoked memories of the stories on Raped at Tufts (Rapedattufts.info), a site maintained by individuals that is, according to its homepage, “dedicated to exposing the perpetuation of rape culture at Tufts University at the hands of the administration.” It has not been updated since April 2011.
Ramathan, who saw Raped at Tufts before he came to campus, said, “[Sexual assault is] a part of being [on] a college campus, but that doesn’t mean we can just ignore it. We still have a responsibility as students and administrators to be better than average.”
At Tufts, as at other institutions, concern for incidents of sexual misconduct is valid, and the administration is aware this concern exists.
“Experiences like those related in the Amherst news are deeply troubling,” Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Director Jill Zellmer said. “Unfortunately — and sadly — no institution, including Tufts, is exempt from sexual misconduct. We are doing our best to combat all sexual misconduct across all Tufts campuses.”
Earlier this year, a university−wide Sexual Violence Working Group revised the Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process and created a Sexual Misconduct Policy to replace Tufts’ Sexual Assault Policy. The revisions were made to clarify prohibited conduct so students can better identify their rights and responsibilities, Zellmer told the Daily in an email last month.
According to Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman and Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter, the changes in Tufts’ policies were the result of a three−year process. Though the university previously ran hearings with a panel of students, the policy has been changed to alleviate victims’ concerns.
“We looked around all over the place and found actually that the best model was being used by Harvard, which had been created just a year and a half prior to [us creating our new policy],” Reitman said. The accusers and alleged perpetrators are interviewed separately and the process takes between 30 and 60 days, according to Reitman.
In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights published a letter that highlighted the need to expand the scope of Title IX’s coverage. The letter led to further revisions of Tufts’ policies, as every case of sexual misconduct is now referred to the OEO. Judicial Affairs still maintains a role in the process.
“I still take the complaint for sexual assault, and we send it [to the OEO] for the fact−finding investigation,” Carter said. “We issue a no−contact order just as soon as a student files a complaint toward the responding party. If the responding party violates a no−contact order, then they have to leave the university until the adjudication process is complete.”
According to Carter, “disciplinary charges pending” is indicated on the responding party’s transcript as soon as the complaint is received. Interim measures, such as safety on campus, are also discussed. For example, if a student wants to move residence halls, Judicial Affairs can help with that process, she said.