Recently, it might seem as though Tufts has been doing a much better job at preventing sexual violence and supporting victims/survivors. Unfortunately, there is more to the story. The administration as a whole is apathetic and resistant towards better policies and procedures, but will use the change that is achieved (mainly by students or laws) to further promote itself and the Tufts brand.
After months with no response to my emails, I was finally contacted by administrators regarding sexual violence prevention programming for Orientation. The news wasn’t good. With a few other students, I had worked on improving the uninformative, discombobulated, and traumatic program “Sex Signals.” “Sex Signals” did not have the distribution of resources for victims/survivors in tangible paper form, so I successfully negotiated those. Additionally, there were originally no “talk backs,” or discussion sessions after “Sex Signals,” so I had negotiated those as well. Instead the program was changed to the (albeit much better) “Speak About It,” though the email I received indicated that that change to “Speak About It” was sufficient. It seemed that nobody really cared about the rest: passing out information about resources, or having mandatory talk backs.
I had to scramble to get Health Services to print the resource pages, and the frantic task of writing the detailed and comprehensive list of resources fell to myself and other students over a matter a couple of days at the end of August. After orientation, a fellow activist informed me that no one showed up to the talk backs, in part because academic integrity workshops and the candle lighting ceremony were scheduled at the same time, and in part because they were not made mandatory. Some students actually missed “Speak About It” because class registration for engineers was scheduled at the same time. What this means is that Tufts thought that it could check off the box next to sexual violence education at Orientation if it simply changed the program. But they didn’t demonstrate the new program’s necessity, and therefore the necessity of the prevention of and response to sexual violence. The disorganization of the orientation program is a result of the administration’s apparent apathy towards the issue.
I stated these issues at my next meeting with my working group, which is a subset of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force. I wanted to speak about it at the cumulative, all-member, Task Force meeting. The meeting came, and an administrator, an ally to the movement, spoke about Orientation like we had agreed upon. But then another administrator stepped in and did “damage control,” admitting that there were certainly some issues, but that we were in beginning stages, that this would all be worked out in the future, and essentially there was no longer any need to complain. I spoke last. So, before I was even allowed to say that Orientation had been a debacle, my voice was devalued and excuses had already been made.
This was the same meeting at which some administrators argued that it would be difficult and punitive to make the talk backs mandatory. This was the same meeting at which an administrator made a joke about how few schools had yet complied to a mandate to release information about incidents of sexual violence affecting their students—and the room full of our administrators laughed. This was also the same meeting at which all but one administrator refused to apologize for not honoring our joint statement and not reviewing “the university’s guidelines for disciplinary sanctions with respect to cases of sexual misconduct, with the goal of implementing and publishing revised guidelines by the beginning of the fall semester.” No members of the taskforce were notified that the joint statement would not be honored, and one administrator suggested that it was the responsibility of one of the students to email and check in that it was being upheld. And it was this same meeting at which administrators argued that not every student found guilty of rape or sexual assault should be expelled.
This is predominantly the way that most Task Force meetings operate. Each group goes over what’s been done, and the administration defiantly self-congratulates for a while. We then discuss what needs to be done, and simple things are declared nearly impossible. There are objections to any student’s statement that is deemed inflammatory, and we’re reminded that nobody wants to hear our or other students’ personal stories. One student activist says, “I find that the administration’s failure to take responsibility has been part of the most frustrating process. […] This failure to be transparent makes it an especially difficult space as a student activist on the task force. Administrators often argue in support of practices that caused so much trauma in a student’s life, and students are often not allowed to talk about the failures of their investigations because they signed a confidentiality agreement.” The student concluded: “It seems like even when the administration gives us the chance to have our voices be heard, good faith and honest negotiations cannot happen because of these realities.”
Unfortunately, the administration doesn’t merely avoid taking responsibility for failures; it has also made clear that it does not want to be held responsible for protecting its students and holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable. Another student successfully summarizes the administration’s shortcoming: “Working to establish a consent culture on Tufts’ campus can feel like an uphill battle, […] Some students (but absolutely not all) need to be ‘sold’ on the idea of consent, through everything from the favorite platitude ‘consent is sexy’ to ‘fun’ orientation skits that too often reduce the gravity of a violent issue. Obtaining consent is a matter of respect, and punishing assailants is a matter of justice. We should not need to sell the humanity of their sex partners to our peers. And it’s with the administration that this negotiating for humanity becomes even more frustrating.” Unfortunately, we do often have to try to prove that our fellow students have “humanity” to the administration. Our administration’s use of media, for example, is particularly upsetting; every interview I’ve read promotes Tufts’ “progress” over everything else. This disconnect between Tufts in the media and Tufts in reality is disturbing, and affirms the institution’s value of its own image over the experiences of its students.
Thus, caring about the lives and experiences of Tufts students mainly falls to student activists. Even though I cannot speak for all of my fellow activists on this issue, I have tried to include as many voices as possible. I also could not touch on all of the problems and obfuscations that permeate this work, but I was able to touch on a few. We student activists attend meeting after meeting, prepare presentations and proposals, take part in interview processes, negotiate, organize, and use our voices until we don’t feel as though we can anymore. Without this activism, much of the change that the school touts in various publications would not exist. This is not the way it should be, but there is hope—and yes, it rests with us. The school must be held accountable for its lack of empathy and motivation to support the fundamental rights of its students.