Established in April 2014, the Tufts Center for Awareness, Resources and Education has been a campus resource for topics like sexual health and consent for almost nine years. In CARE’s near decade serving the Medford/Somerville campus, its initial office of one has transformed into a collective of more than 150 people. Green Dot and Sex Health Reps, CARE’s two sibling programs, have reached ubiquity at Tufts, cropping up everywhere from stickers on people’s laptops to high-profile, thoughtfully curated programming at first-year student orientations.
In reflecting upon its meteoric rise and its uniqueness as an organization, one can’t help but wonder — where did it all begin?
CARE finds its origins in a perhaps surprising locale: the hair salons and barbershops of Cambridge, Mass. Alexandra Donovan, founder and director of CARE, was drawn into these intimate centers of community by way of her work with Cambridge Public Health. At first, she saw them merely as a great place for her practice; their structure and atmosphere made them an ideal place to educate community members about issues of sexual health and misconduct.
“It was word of mouth; it was trust building; there were some really incredible conversations and community building happening in those small spaces,” Donovan said.
Eventually, community members who frequented these shops urged her in a completely different direction — namely, school campuses. Many clients expressed concerns that the sexual education their children had received was insufficient and that they could benefit from the wisdom and frankness of someone like Donovan. She had indeed developed the expertise, with work experience in spaces like hospitals and community shelters. Through these conversations, Donovan became aware of both the urgency of the work and her suitability for the project. At that point, she began to take her skillset to schools in the Boston area.
Enter Tufts: Donovan first came to campus as an ExCollege instructor, and soon stepped into the role of CARE Director when the university decided to open it as a permanent office in 2014.
“When this position was created, I was just like, this is it,” she said. “I had just done this class, this makes sense that this would be the next step for me.”
Thus began the journey towards building CARE: a widely-known, trustworthy resource for Tufts community members who needed any kind of support on matters of sexuality.
Of its manifold resources, the central and most longstanding is its role as a confidential support system for students. Donovan wanted CARE to provide a space for students to unpack or ask questions about the sexual and relationship-based issues they confronted without worrying about where the details of their personal lives would end up.
“The thing that really makes CARE special is that it’s fully confidential,” Emma Cohen, associate prevention and response specialist at CARE, said. She identified confidentiality as a crucial aspect of trust building, especially when discussions are upsetting or traumatic for the student.
Cohen was brought onto the CARE team a little over a year ago. She works as a confidential resource for students alongside Donovan, but her training as a yoga teacher has diversified the CARE office’s services by giving students the opportunity to practice trauma-informed yoga. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Cohen teaches “Yoga for Healing,” a class intended to help students recover from sexual trauma. Open to all students, the class provides a consistent, safe space to gently exercise one’s body.
“I think there is a misconception that the thing you’re supposed to do if you’ve experienced sexual violence is go to talk therapy,” Cohen said. “And for some people that’s super helpful … but it’s just not true for everybody.”
Cohen emphasized the importance of having different options to seek help, especially in the context of the different services CARE provides. Students seem to appreciate this — the class is now being offered for its third consecutive semester.
“We’ve set [CARE] up intentionally to have a lot of different touch points,” she said.
While Donovan and Cohen take pride in the work they do through CARE, both emphasized the crucial role of the students involved in Green Dot and Sex Health Reps in the office’s ascendance.
“While I’m saying [that I have been] the consistent backbone to [CARE], it’s been the students who have done it,” said Donovan.
Green Dot, which is advised by Donovan and campaigns to prevent sexual assault at Tufts, has expanded to a group of over 100 ambassadors. Their ranks include one Green Dot representative for every sports team on campus and the recently-formed Green Dot Greek Life Council, which attempts to standardize prevention practices in fraternities and sororities. The Green Dot program primarily designs bystander awareness trainings for student organizations with the intention of decreasing rates of sexual misconduct at Tufts.
Elizabeth Cucuzzella, a junior and one of two coordinators for the program, commented on the unique, student-led nature of Green Dot.
“I don’t know a lot of other schools that have the sort of peer-to-peer relationship that we have in this work,” she said.
While Green Dot has always related information to students by way of students, it continues to break new ground by making innovative Tufts-specific content on forums like Instagram.
“It’s great to apply [our work] to things that are happening on campus,” fellow coordinator junior Meg van den Beemt said.
Last fall, the homecoming safety post on Green Dot’s Instagram (@tuftsgreendot) was highly engaged with and well received, a credit to the experience and thoughtfulness of the Green Dot team. Cucuzzella and van den Beemt also hope to develop content for the upcoming spring formal season, and are excited to continue their work with Greek Life on campus.
Sex Health Reps has a similar structure: Two coordinators assist the reps in the production of peer-led sexual health curricula. Cohen, their advisor at CARE, commented on the success of the Sex Health Reps.
“One thing I think the Reps do well is make the educational pieces feel fun, feel casual [and] feel accessible,” she said.
Cohen added that past trainings have taken a humorous tack, including one which asked participants to identify whether objects are dog toys or sex toys.
The Sex Health Reps program also makes great use of Instagram as an educational platform. Jessica Lomasney, a senior who joined the program last spring, mentioned that the Instagram account is essential to Sex Health Reps. Their instagram account, @tuftsshr, is the platform for Hump Day Q&As, one of their most famous ventures, where reps take on questions about sex from both DMs and the anonymous online forum SideChat.
Another recent Sex Health Reps success was Jumboning, the first-year orientation programming developed by current coordinator Chris Shi and other CARE interns over Summer 2022. Donovan was very proud of the production, calling it “probably the best received programming we’ve done for first years, ever.” Complete with flashy elements like slingshotted teddy bears (“CARE”-bears) and education on topics like consent, a diverse collection of stories about sex from every walk of life was its foundation.
Above all, the programming was designed to apply to students no matter their relationship or experiences with sexuality. Mikey Cox, a coordinator of Sex Health Reps, emphasized the importance of including a variety of diverse experiences in programming.
“I want to have everyone’s opinions and everyone’s experiences, because sex isn’t just happening for straight white people,” Cox, a sophomore, said.
Shi, who grew up in an environment where sex simply wasn’t discussed, is especially aware of the fact that some people may have limited information about the topic.
“It is me and [Cox’s] goal to hopefully have [Sex Health Reps] be a resource for all individuals to not feel like they’re behind,” Shi said.
If a modern, innovative sexual health curriculum is to work, the logic follows that it should be applicable to every part of the student body. The Sex Health Reps have made this their mission.
In the nine years since its founding, CARE has become an enigmatic, innovative and deeply effective presence on campus. Whether it’s peer-to-peer trainings, Instagram Q&As, trauma-informed yoga or just a safe, confidential space for conversation, the office has discovered a multitude of ways to engage with a diverse student body that are equally fun and informative, lighthearted and serious.
Donovan, who spent many uncertain years building its solid foundation, looks back on CARE’s evolution with joy and relief.
“Watching it build has been amazing,” she said. “Where it is now is a very different place, where if I left, it would still continue.”
How exactly the office will proceed remains to be seen.
“The work that we’re doing is constantly changing and constantly evolving, and there’s no end goal in sight,” Cox said.
Rather than see this uncertainty as daunting, the wealth of possibilities has been embraced by everyone at CARE, who continue to devise more ways to help fellow Jumbos. In any case, the future of their office and the students they serve looks better, safer and sexier each semester.