Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault and rape.
Have you ever had that feeling, after walking alone off-campus late at night, when you finally cross onto campus you feel a bit safer? I remember that feeling. I also remember when I stopped feeling that sense of security. I remember when walking onto Tufts' campus suddenly made me feel less safe than ever before.
My name is Jordan Dashow. I am a senior from Long Island. I am double majoring in political science and international relations. Three and a half years ago, I was sexually assaulted at Tufts.
This academic year, I've had a question on my mind. A question that's been nagging at me. A question that I can't get out of my head. And every time I think about this question, I think about my past.
I think about the night I was sexually assaulted. I think about the time I spent right afterwards back at my dorm in the Lewis Hall bathroom. Brushing my teeth. Gargling mouthwash. Feeling like I needed to vomit. Doing everything I could to get the taste of someone else's cum out of my mouth. I came to Tufts excited to finally be out of the closet. Excited to meet other gay males. Excited to finally be myself. I never expected that my first sexual experience at Tufts - my first sexual experience ever - would involve me being sexually assaulted.
I left the Lewis Hall bathroom, and on the way back to my dorm a four-letter word kept appearing in my head. Yet, my first reaction was that that word didn't fit. I am a feminist. I knew victim blaming was bad. I knew it's never the victim's fault. Yet, somehow, I thought my case was different. Yes, I said no several times. Yes, I was drunk. But I didn't fight him off. But I didn't leave. Why did I drink? Why didn't I fight him off? Why didn't I run away? And when these questions rushed through my mind, I realized I could not deal with them. I could not face them. And so I tried to brush them aside. I tried to ignore that night. Forget about that night. Erase that night. I did not want to think about that four-letter word - I did not want to think about rape.
And so, for a bit more than two years, I did my best to forget about that night. I tried to file it away in my brain in a place I rarely went. I tried to ignore it. And for over two years, I did. I did my best never to think about that night.
But in the back of my mind, I knew what had happened to me. And I knew what happened that night wasn't my fault. I even confronted the person who sexually assaulted me. However, I still managed to run from the truth for over two years. But after two years, I couldn't hide from what happened to me anymore.
And then I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life: I filed a sexual assault complaint against my assailant. Looking back, I am grateful I made this decision, but going through the sexual misconduct adjudication process was one of the most emotionally, physically and mentally draining experiences I have ever had. I was finally forced to cope with what had happened to me and with the anxieties, worries and emotions that came with going through the adjudication process.
It was not a fun process. It was painful and reopened wounds I didn't even know I had. Mistakes were made. The process lagged on. I had to appeal the initial decision, which only put my assailant on Probation II. But ultimately, I am glad I reported the sexual assault. Yes, the process could have been better. But ultimately, after the appeal, I got the decision I asked for. And knowing that I may have prevented someone else from being sexually assaulted on this campus was all I needed to justify the emotionally tolling process of reporting the sexual assault.
However, my experiences with the adjudication process and subsequent conversations with other survivors and consent culture activists have left a burning question in my head. A question to which I have not been able to fathom a possible answer. A question which has literally kept me awake at night.
Why does Tufts want rapists on this campus?
According to a compiled list of Tufts offenses and their suggested disciplinary consequences, the suggested punishment for "cheating on an exam" is expulsion. The suggested punishment for submitting "a stolen or forged medical pass (or other document) for a class? Expulsion. The suggested punishment for ""falsifying data or research?"" Expulsion. But sexual assault? From my experience and the experience of others, the outcome varies.
At Tufts, sexual assault can get a person expelled. But it can also just get a person suspended. And even worse, a student can be found guilty of sexual assault at Tufts and just be put on Probation II. And so I must ask: Why does Tufts want rapists on this campus?
It is disgusting that Tufts would allow students found guilty of sexual assault to continue to take classes and share a campus with their survivors. No survivor should have to go through the adjudication process only to find out that their perpetrator was found guilty, but only given a slap on the wrist: probation. No survivor should have to go to sleep afraid at night because their assailant is coming back to campus after a semester or year's suspension. Not only does this serve as an injustice to survivors who go through the sexual misconduct adjudication process, it also puts the rest of the student body at risk.
According to Know Your IX, nine out of 10 rapes on college campuses are perpetrated by repeat offenders, and the average college rapist rapes six times. In addition, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. And Tufts is only adding to that problem.
On Wednesday April 2, hundreds of students gathered in Cohen Auditorium to hear dozens of students recount their experiences with sexual assault for It Happens Here. Well, Tufts helps it happen here.
When will Tufts take punishing sexual assault perpetrators seriously? When will Tufts institute a policy that will ensure that students who commit sexual assault are expelled rather than given a slap on the wrist?
In an email to the student body on September 6, 2013, University President Anthony Monaco announced that he would be chairing a university-wide task force on sexual mis-conduct prevention because it is a "priority...to ensure that we follow through on our institutional commitment to the safety and wellbeing of our community." I want to be hopeful that this task force will yield fundamental changes to how Tufts deals with preventing and responding to sexual assaults, and I have already heard from members of the task force that Tufts has already agreed to some suggestions. However, I cannot help but worry that this task force will just be another way for Tufts to pretend they are taking leaps forward while actually only taking small steps. I have already heard from individuals on the task force that several suggestions were inexplicably removed from the current draft. Improvements that were already suggested and agreed on before the task force was even formed, such as the implementation of Haven, an educational tool on sexual assault, are suddenly making their way into the report — no doubt so the administration can check off one more "recommendation" that they are agreeing to. And discussions of reforming the adjudication process have been delayed until next semester.
However, survivors can't wait. I want to be hopeful that Tufts will truly undergo some radical changes in the near future. In the past few years, Tufts has tremendously improved the sexual misconduct adjudication process. However, there is still more work to be done.
I am not writing this Op-Ed in order to discourage people from reporting instances of sexual violence. In fact, I hope more survivors will report their assailants to the university in the coming years. I am certain that there are cases that have just outcomes. In general, I felt supported by the Office of Equal Opportunity, even when things did not go well. Ultimately, even when I was at my lowest points during the adjudication process, I was grateful I reported my assailant because I knew that doing nothing would not bring me peace. For me, it was essential that I regain my voice and do my best to ensure that no other student could be put in danger by my assailant.
I know the adjudication process isn't right for everyone and I respect that. While I hope more people will report their sexual assaults to the OEO in the coming years, I recognize that some people are not in a place where they can go through the adjudication process. I believe it is important to recognize that reporting one's sexual assault is a personal decision, and it is important to respect survivor's decisions to report or not report.
But there must be justice for those who do decide to report. And that is why I am writing this Op-Ed. I am writing this Op-Ed because I want Tufts to stop allowing students who were found guilty of sexual assault to return to campus. It is time that Tufts fulfill its moral and legal obligation to survivors. It is time that Tufts stops forcing survivors to live in constant fear of their assailants. It is time for Tufts to commit to expelling students who are found guilty of sexual assault.
I will, however, make one important exception to this rule. Although I believe that Tufts should commit to expelling students who are found guilty of sexual assault, there should be flexibility for a lighter punishment only at the request of the complainant, i.e. the survivor. I recognize that some students who go through the adjudication process do not want their assailant expelled, and while I think expulsion is the most just and safety- conscience punishment, I do not want survivors to hesitate from filing complaints. Ultimately, a complaint with a lesser verdict — at the request of the survivor — is in my opinion better than no complaint at all.
Ultimately, however, Tufts must commit to expelling rapists unless the survivor requests otherwise. Tufts needs to do this for survivors and for the safety of the entire student body. Expulsion is the only just punishment for committing sexual assault that the university can administer.
In a few weeks, I will graduate. And perhaps I will never know why Tufts wants rapists on this campus. I can only hope that Tufts will soon change its practices, put this horrible chapter behind it and commit to expelling students who commit sexual assault. Because it happens here. It happened to me.
Why does Tufts want rapists on its campus?
Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault and rape.