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Op-ed | Tufts must defend survivors’ dignity in policy and practice

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013

Updated: Monday, April 29, 2013 01:04


Today, we and several other students from the Consent Culture Network and Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) are sending an open letter to members of the administration, asking for changes to the policy and institutional infrastructure surrounding sexual assault at Tufts. While this letter is addressed to the administration, we hope it will also act as an invitation to all members of the Tufts community to start a conversation on concrete improvements to our institutions that adequately address sexual assault in our community.

Rape culture and sexual assault are particularly pervasive on college campuses. According to the Department of Justice, at least one in five women on college campuses experience attempted or completed rape. While statistics on the experiences of college-aged men are sparse, men are raped, both here at Tufts and beyond. The vast majority of these survivors know their assailants. 

Tufts is not exempt from this reality. While recent changes to our Sexual Assault Policy improved vastly upon its last iteration, problems persist. With seven different bodies — Tufts University Police Department, Health Service, Counseling and Mental Health Services, the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Dean of Student Affairs, the Office of Judicial Affairs and Health Education — involved in prevention and response in some form or another, access to policy and resources remains difficult. Education and awareness programs are lacking, and support systems for survivors are almost nonexistent. Student groups are left to pick up much of the slack, but we are limited in our scope and too often transient, due to our limited time here. Our institutions must adopt major changes.

With this in mind, we are sending our letter to University President Anthony Monaco, Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris, Dean of Undergraduate Education John Barker, and Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman, as well as to Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Jill Zellmer, Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong and Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter. Many of these administrators have done excellent work in awareness, prevention and response concerning sexual violence. Tufts is much better off now than it was only a few years ago in terms of its Sexual Misconduct Policy. However, there is still a severe lack of cohesion, and efforts that do currently exist are under-resourced. 

Our letter is built from the experiences and research of many student activists, some of whom have combated issues of rape culture and sexual violence for nearly four years. It is also the product of conversations among a diverse set of student communities, whether through their involvement with the Consent Culture Network or through our outreach to different campus groups. It is a statement of the current shortcomings in policy and institutions that call for eight changes we see as essential.

Our letter addresses four key problems with the current policy and institutions: lack of access to the policy, process and resources; lack of institutional support for survivors’ healing; lack of extended support infrastructure and a lack of student body education. With this prelude in mind, we call for both short-term and more widespread changes.

In the short term, we call for the creation and codification of Victim and Accused Witness Advocates to the adjudication process in order to prevent undue burden on survivors navigating the complex judicial process on their own amidst their healing process. We also call for academic leniency and housing change options to be codified into the process. These should be available to survivors through a unified resource, regardless of whether or not they choose to pursue disciplinary action. Finally, we call for slight changes in the definition of sexual assault in the policy in order to be more inclusive of LGBTQ students and experiences.

Looking forward, widespread institutional change is necessary. We call for the establishment of a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office dedicated to handling sexual violence, sexual assault and related issues, including coordinating the various resources and policies existing at Tufts and housing further changes as outlined below. Similar offices exist at schools across the nation, including at Harvard University, Northwestern University and Columbia University. Many more universities have employees exclusively dedicated to sexual violence prevention. We call for this office to actively and continually engage the student body and for it reflect the diversity of our community — particularly students of color and LGBTQ students — who are affected by sexual violence in unique ways that must be treated with sensitivity and cultural competency.

Further, our letter calls for Tufts to institutionalize awareness, education and support programs and to centralize them with a mindset that promotes active consent, bystander intervention and intersectional issues; avoids victim-blaming in any form and continually consults students. We also call for adequate training of all staff and administrators who may be faced with sexual violence issues in the same mindset. Finally, we call for the establishment of a 24-hour hotline for survivors and others seeking support, similar to services currently provided at peer universities such as Boston College, Brown University, Columbia University, Duke University and Washington University in St. Louis.

We believe that Tufts must adopt these changes to address the problems outlined above. This is necessary if we are to catch up to the rapid changes of many of our peer institutions and if we are to actively pursue federal laws and regulations, including the college-focused section of the recently passed Violence Against Women Act.

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