Due to issues of confidentiality, miscommunication and timing, an exhibit containing pictures of and quotes by four Tufts student survivors of sexual assault was not included earlier this month in a gallery for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Tisch Library, as had been previously planned.
The four female students whose pictures and quotes were not part of the exhibit object to the decision because they feel that they are being prevented from expressing their stories in the ways they want to and believe they deserve, according to a source who was one of the four students but chose to remain anonymous.
The gallery, entitled “Faces of Survivors: Voices Reclaimed,” was a compilation of pictures of sexual assault survivors from outside the university taken by professional photographer Catherine Pedemonti. The Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and the Women’s Center co−sponsored the gallery as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, according to Senior Director of Health and Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler.
Bowdler said that four students volunteered to participate in the gallery after they were approached by former Violence Prevention Education Coordinator Elaine Theodore, who knew of their sexual assault history. The exhibit was originally supposed to include a picture of part of each woman’s body that would not reveal their identities along with a statement about their experiences with sexual assault, the anonymous source said.
“It’s a beautiful exhibit that is an attempt to show that survivors come in every variety of a person that you could possible imagine,” Bowdler said.
Bowdler said she and the OEO ultimately decided against displaying the pictures and quotes from Tufts students because one of the students’ statements made specific allegations that would have necessitated an investigation before the university could display it. She said that the organizers lacked the time to appropriately address the issues because the administration had already paid for and planned out Pedemonti’s portion of the exhibit weeks in advance and these issues were only brought up several days before the gallery’s set unveiling time.
“There was not enough time for us to meet our obligation to address a very serious situation described by one of these students,” Bowdler said. “There was a lot of back−and−forth, and you can’t conclude an investigation in a day.”
The anonymous source believes that her rights were violated by Bowdler and the OEO’s actions.
“I know they specifically didn’t like my text because I mentioned Tufts, and I told them that there had already been an investigation and my text was still very applicable [to Sexual Assault Awareness Month],” the student said. “I didn’t really care if I was contacted by OEO, but it got to the point where I was so frustrated and wanted my text and picture up, because this was an exhibit about survivors’ voices, and I felt like I was being silenced again. It basically sounded like they were trying to protect Tufts instead of trying to let us have our voices.”
She also said she was asked to change her text to what she believes is a much vaguer account of her experience.
“They wanted me to say, ‘Finding a way to speak up and have a voice can help survivors heal,’ which I thought was extremely hypocritical considering they weren’t letting me use my voice at all,” she said.
Bowdler cited confidentiality as a major problem for the exhibit and believed that Theodore did not correctly inform the students that their confidentiality would be at risk if they included specific details in their statements.
“It’s not a simple matter of saying that it’s okay to me if you post [my photo and quote] and you can post it anonymously, because we [as the administration] have legal obligations that we’re bound by when people say that they were harmed,” Bowdler explained. “It’s not an attempt to silence. No one wants to silence anybody.”
Another of the students involved also disapproved of the way the administration dealt with this situation. She said she was disappointed that she was not ultimately included in the exhibit and that she felt her contribution was censored by the decision.
“There has to be a middle ground between not investigating sexual violence reports and going so far that survivors are silenced because if they speak up they may be forced to allow their case to be investigated,” she told the Daily anonymously.
Bowdler responded to the second anonymous source’s frustration by saying that she wanted to be fair in including either all or none of the pieces in the exhibit.
“If we can’t post all of them in a way that the survivors wish, and we haven’t had time to do the work we need to do to talk to the survivors and investigate their concerns, we’re not going to post any of them until we can post all of them,” Bowdler explained.
Bowdler hopes that the pictures and quotes of Tufts students will be displayed in the future. She said the recent complications only caused a delay, rather than a cancellation, of the exhibit.
“I understand that the students are disappointed by this delay, and so am I,” Bowdler said. “I hope that students will understand that the delay is the result of our commitment to taking any concern about sexual violence very seriously and investigating complaints thoroughly.”