Sexual assault taskforce to change misconduct policies at Tufts
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013 01:10
Tufts reported 48 sexual assaults to the U.S. Department of Justice in accordance with a grant program for New England universities run by the department, according to a Boston Globe article published in 2010. The university had been receiving $1.3 million in grant funding since 1999 to put toward efforts to improve resources for victims.
Last year, a university-wide Sexual Violence Working Group formed to replace Tufts’ Sexual Assault Policy with the current Sexual Misconduct Policy.
But when former Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator Elaine Theodore left her position at Tufts a few years ago, no one was hired to replace her. During the 2012-2013 year, there were 63 reported cases of sexual misconduct in a broad number of categories, according to the data from the Office of Equal Opportunity.
In light of these ongoing issues, a sexual assault taskforce has been formed in an attempt to streamline the way that Tufts deals with sexual assault on campus. President Anthony Monaco acts as chair of the taskforce, along with Mary Jeka, senior vice president for university relations and general counsel. Students are involved in the group’s operations as well.
“The Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Prevention is designed to ensure that Tufts is doing all it can to effectively combat all forms of sexual misconduct,” Jeka told the Daily in an email. “This includes addressing sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sex or gender discrimination, stalking and relationship violence as well as sexual assault.”
Part of what prompted the taskforce’s formation is that the problems with sexual misconduct and the policies surrounding it have frustrated and angered many Tufts students. Various groups have been developed in order to address these issues, among them Prevention, Awareness and Community at Tufts, Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) and the Consent Culture Network, which is an educational offshoot of ASAP. While these groups have hosted many workshops about sexual misconduct, students are still unsatisfied with the sexual misconduct culture and policies at Tufts.
On April 29, ASAP sent a letter to the Tufts administration, calling its attention to three key ways in which they failed to address sexual assault security policy for students, which included a lack of access to policies, processes and resources, as well as a lack of support infrastructure and a lack of education about sexual assault. The letter began with the shortcomings of the Tufts sexual assault policy, and then outlined the improvements that could be made to the policies.
A response from Monaco expressed that there are insufficient resources at Tufts to accommodate those who lack education about sexual assault and those who are survivors searching for academic and emotional support. His response called for the new sexual assault taskforce.
“Such misconduct has no place at Tufts,” Monaco told the Daily in an email. “My goal in convening and chairing the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Taskforce is to ensure that we address this important issue effectively ... to support our community needs.”
Jeka noted that creating a group of people ready to tackle such sensitive problems can be difficult, but the taskforce is well on its way.
“The taskforce is well-equipped to ensure that Tufts is continuously monitoring our efforts in all these areas, staying ahead of best practices, and making improvements [where necessary],” she said. “Our members include graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and administrators from the Boston, Medford and Somerville and Grafton campuses with a variety of professional expertise and knowledge of individual schools and campus cultures.”
Junior Kumar Ramanathan, who was one of the core writers of the letter and is now a member of the taskforce, said that the new sexual assault taskforce has begun the first few of its meetings this semester. The first was to discuss preliminary logistics, he said.
Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Jill Zellmer explained that the group decided to break into working groups to split the workload and divide up the responsibilities. The subgroups, Ramanathan said, include awareness and prevention, resources and adjudication policy.
Zellmer said that another focus that the prevention working group factored in was education.
“Prevention and education [will] instill greater awareness, education and support programs and train and educate staff and administrators and students,” she said.