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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

Social Tufts Data looks to start dialogue, gather information on campus sexual conduct

Nationally, one in five women are sexually assaulted while at college. But does a statistic like that hold true here at Tufts?

Social Tufts Data (Tufts STD) was started in October to help address that question. It was started by sexual misconduct prevention specialist Alexandra Donovan, whose job is to talk to different groups on campus about bystander intervention, healthy relationship skills and other topics relevant to campus sex culture, according to Donovan.

STD is part of a larger push for a Tufts-specific conversation about sexual culture on campus. This week, Tufts distributed the Tufts Attitudes About Sexual Conduct Survey (TASCS), which will hopefully gather information about students' opinions on sexual misconduct and assault.

"The goal is to use the survey results to identify and resolve concerns about climate, culture and other aspects of campus life that contribute to sexual misconduct; to provide improved resources and support to students; and to enhance our response and prevention efforts around sexual misconduct for the safety of our entire community," University President Anthony Monaco said in an email to the student body. "This collaborative effort developed questions unique to the Tufts community and adopted questions from other school surveys." 

"As I’ve been doing this work I’m using a lot of academic research and other things in the statistics ... and the push-back I kept getting was ‘that’s not [Tufts-specific],'" Donovan said. "I thought ok, that’s technically true, so what really are the differences between these types of studies and Tufts? What can I do to get more polls out there to get more information that’s more Tufts-specific?"

Tufts STD is primarily organized through its Facebook page. Among its various functions, the program posts articles and surveys about sexual culture and misconduct, and Tufts Health Service Specialists answer anonymous sex-related questions. Donovan and sophomore Alice Wasserman, an intern with Tufts STD, hope to help raise awareness about how sex culture is portrayed and perceived.

“We’re hoping that these articles prompt discussion, and [the page is] kind of a forum where students can learn more about sexual culture because it is such an important issue, especially on college campuses," Wasserman said. "We’re hoping to create our own space where people can not only come up with questions but understand what sexual culture is on campus."

Wasserman hopes that STD's posts and surveys can help encourage dialogue about sexual assault.

“I’ve been really liking it because I feel like sex is a part of everyday life. Sexual assault is [a] part of this campus that’s relatively hidden, and I feel like developing some sort of forum for discussion will help translate into healthy practices and gauge more action and awareness on this issue,” Wasserman said. "And we’re hoping that discussion will translate into action so students know how to intervene and not be afraid to speak up and speak out about these things."

Donovan agreed, and said that she wants Tufts STD's work to help reduce the stigma associated with certain conversations.

"Where can we get data that is going to make people learn, be curious, want to have more conversations about this kind of stuff, all of that," she said. "We talk about the culture here and the more we talk about this, the easier it is to talk about sexual assault and rape and sexual misconduct, all of which are coming on campus but we usually talk about it as over there or apart from our social lives, but it lives day-to-day in our social lives."

"The more we can talk about it, the more likely this information will come up as well and the more likely we can do some preventative work about it," she continued.

Most recently, Donovan was inspired to do a survey on emojis by a conversation she had with students about the winking-face emoji.

"How do you know what the reaction’s going to be to the [winking] face? It’s a perfect example of healthy communication skills," Donovan said. "If you know this is going to get a good response, ok, send it. If you don’t know [if] this is going to get a good response, maybe you want to rethink something."

The survey Tufts STD distributed is also in reaction to a Singles In America survey conducted by a market research company, which reported that people who use more emojis when they text are more likely than non-emoji users to report having sex at least monthly.Students were asked if they agreed with that statement, what their favorite emoji was and how they reacted to the winking face. Tufts STD has received almost 300 responses so far.

"That is the goal -- to just have a quick, simple survey [that] we want to use to show that data can be interpreted differently, and [that] people at Tufts are maybe not responding the way we expect," Donovan said. "So just finding different ways to use this ... [will] speak to the population, because emojis you just think of as being fun and cute and sort of a throw away thing, but to understand that someone could find it really threatening to receive something like that."

Wasserman and Donovan answer students' anonymously submitted questions about sex and sexuality, including some from the Tufts Confessions Facebook page and Yik Yak via video. The first video, published on April 8, answered the question, “Can I really break his penis?”

Donovan is hoping to devote more time to the project in the fall, once a new office has been created for sexual violence prevention and she is no longer splitting her time between Tufts University Health Service and the Office of Equal Opportunity.

For now, Tufts STD is still focused on adapting itself to issues in which Tufts students are interested.

“A lot of it is very open-ended because we want to see what the campus wants," Wasserman said. "I think it’s all about putting things about sex and sex culture and relationships and sexual assault out there to get a discussion going because these topics are kind of hard to talk about."

One question that has come up a lot is regarding Tufts STD’s name, according to Donovan.

“I think the funniest part is that a lot of students don’t think that I realize [what sexually transmitted disease is] stands for, and I’m perfectly aware of that, which is why I usually go with the full name,” Donovan said. “Are you ever going to forget STD? However, I understand we need the explanation to it.”

As for whether Tufts fits into the national statistics about sexual assault and culture, there is no conclusive evidence yet, according to Donovan.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten that far. Personally, from what I’m hearing, I don’t see a huge divide between statistics and what’s happening at Tufts, but I don’t have any data to back that up. I just have that anecdotal data," Donovan said. "So I am really curious; I want to know how different it is."