Is Tufts doing enough?
Content warning: Mentions of sexual assault policy
All new Tufts students are mandated to receive training on the University’s “sexual misconduct” policies through the Office of Equal Opportunity. However, no mandated trainings exist for student groups on campus. The only mandated trainings are enforced by external organizations, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association. For the past three years, the NCAA has mandated that every varsity sports team in the organization complete a yearly sexual violence prevention training.
This year, student athletes at Tufts fulfilled the requirement by attending founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke’s November 7 talk hosted by the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series. In contrast, last year’s mandate was fulfilled through Green Dot sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention trainings.
Tufts has received criticism regarding its lack of initiative for educating student groups on this issue, given the lack of mandated training. Some students on campus find that these NCAA mandated trainings are not enough––and this criticism has been especially visible this past year. The requirement to fulfill the mandate has also raised questions about the University’s commitment to creating cultures of consent and student-survivor support at a higher, institutional level.
Alexandra Donovan, Director of the Center for Awareness, Resources, and Education (CARE) at Tufts, shared the history of the NCAA mandate and how it has been fulfilled in past years. The first year the NCAA created the mandate, they piloted a webinar that would fulfill the requirement. “The first year here at Tufts, each team went through the webinar––the whole team was together, the coach was at the front of the room, [and] they clicked through the webinar,” she said.
The pilot brought in mixed reviews from varsity athletes, according to Donovan. “After that first experience, students were saying that some coaches are skilled in having these conversations and it was a good opportunity to have an in-depth conversation. Other teams clicked [through the webinar] and no one talked and it was sort of a non-starter.” The next year, the requirement was satisfied by two hour Green Dot trainings, facilitated by Donovan, in which all 30 varsity sports teams participated.
Donovan explained that Tufts Athletics requested that a speaker from outside the Tufts community educate the varsity teams this year. Coincidentally, Tisch College had independently coordinated for Tarana Burke to come and speak at Tufts. The Athletics department, Tisch College, and CARE collaborated to have the talk fulfill the NCAA mandate.
In addition to the public talk, there was a question and answer pre-session with student athlete leaders. Donovan said, “There were athletes that were chosen to be part of a private session with her so they could ask athletic-related questions. That session would be included in the video of the larger public session.” Tufts Green Dot student coordinator, John LaLime shared that the “questions [in the pre-session] were much more specifically related to the basic premise of: you’re a student athlete on campus, what can I do to facilitate this movement?”
The athlete-only pre-session and public session was recorded for viewing by all varsity athletes. All in-season varsity teams watched the recordings together and coaches “facilitated smaller dialogues with each of the teams,” Kyla Martin, Prevention and Resource Specialist at CARE, explained. To ensure that all athletes—including those out of season—viewed the talk to fulfill the mandate, Donovan said there is a login that each athlete used to access the pre-session and talk.
Erin Viola, Co-President of Action for Sexual Assault Prevention, expressed on behalf of the ASAP E-board that this year’s fulfillment of the NCAA mandate is insufficient. She explained, “The replacement of a Green Dot training with mandated attendance at Tarana Burke’s talk is absolutely disgraceful. By changing the sexual violence curriculum required by [NCAA] every year, they are squandering the opportunity to train an entire class of incoming Freshmen. That leaves a major gap in harm reduction and leaves the Tufts community vulnerable.” Viola believes that the change may be dangerous. “Frankly, it is an oversight with serious consequences,” she said.
Donovan feels that successive Green Dot trainings to fulfill the mandate would not have their desired impact. “Every year, we are looking for a new voice to reach these students. If I did a Green Dot training every year with the same students over and over again, it’s ineffective. So Green Dot is every other year.”
Donovan also said that some teams request more training than the one used to fulfill the NCAA mandate. “In addition to this being how they’re fulfilling their NCAA requirement, we are still getting requests for Green Dot trainings for teams. It’s not like they have rejected us. Their mandate is that they have to do this. Anything else is additional and voluntary on their part.”
Viola pointed out that the required attendance of varsity athletes also detracted from the event’s ability to reach people that wanted to attend. “In mandating athletes to come to an event with limited seating, they are inevitably taking physical space away from students who actually wanted to come to the event. I saw friends of mine who are survivors be turned away at the door because Cohen had filled up,”she said.
Viola expressed that Burke’s talk “was particularly uplifting and potentially healing for survivors. It is frustrating that some individuals who wouldn’t have attended the event without it being mandated made it so survivors hoping to attend were unable to do so. This, of course, is not to say that there are no survivors on our campus who are also athletes.”
Tufts Green Dot Coordinator, Emma Seymour, pointed out, “It was unfortunate that the entire Tufts community couldn’t be in that room, but I think there’s always room for learning and growth. I think that’s something that the Tisch Distinguished Speaker Series could think about: how to get a bigger venue so that all of us can be there. But that’s completely out of our control as students.”
Seymour also emphasized the importance of collaboration in educating the Tufts Community on sexual assault awareness and prevention. “One thing that I learned from Tarana Burke’s talk which was so incredibly powerful, is that Green Dot is not the only mechanism for athletes to receive this information. I think that is something Alexandra, the Athletics department, and Tufts programming all did work on together.”
Donovan emphasized how much work there is to be done on this issue at Tufts, and how each group––whether it is CARE, Green Dot, Sex Health Reps, or ASAP—has the ability to reach different communities on campus. “There’s not enough of us doing this work on campus and there’s unfortunately more people needing it all the time,” she said.
Donovan shared that “CARE being its own distinct office, our goal [is to be a] confidential resource for anyone who needs it.” Unlike the OEO, CARE does not have the ability to mandate trainings. At a higher level, the Tufts administration is responsible for mandating these trainings for student groups.
Most sexual assault awareness and prevention trainings are conducted by student led groups: Tufts Green Dot, Tufts Sex Health Reps, or ASAP. Staff from the CARE office can also conduct trainings, such as in the case of last year’s fulfilment of the NCAA requirement. Tufts Green Dot and Tufts Sex Health Reps are situated under the CARE umbrella and are funded by the Tufts administration, while ASAP is a student group and receives funding from Tufts Community Union.
The main reasoning behind training student groups to conduct sexual assault awareness and prevention is that mandated OEO trainings are not enough. Tufts Green Dot Ambassador Marley Hillman explained, “What I find is that people sit through what they are required to sit through, may or may not retain the information, and they never see the information again, unless an instance of sexual violence happens and they need to. And I think that one training at the beginning of someone’s Tufts career is not enough because people forget. I wish that was a yearly requirement.”
ASAP Co-President Isabella Spaulding suggested that in addition to the OEO training on Tufts sexual misconduct policies, “There needs to be mandated training for every student that addresses consent and bystander intervention––at the least––and ideally would address how to support survivors on campus such as how to respond if someone discloses. At the bare minimum, there needs to be thorough [training]. [What] they have now isn’t thorough.”
Jen Kim, head of Survivor Support for ASAP, expressed that it should not be the responsibility of student groups themselves to educate the rest of the Tufts community on this issue. “I think part of why ASAP exists is because there is such a lack of institutional support for this type of education, across the board. In an ideal world, ASAP might not even exist. But our education should be provided to all of these clubs and teams and freshmen coming in, and things like that,” she explained.
Donovan expressed similar concerns over the lack of mandated training for student groups. “People just assume that it’s either the athletes or Greek life that need this information more than anyone. But if you were to ask me where my number one concern is on our campus, it doesn’t fall into either one of those buckets. At least those two buckets are actively getting trained in some way,” she pointed out. “The other 360 student groups have no training from us, no required training. That’s where the majority of the students are. Why aren’t we moving things in that direction?”
Although there is a clear desire for more mandated trainings, the likelihood of a policy change may seem dim given the difficulties student groups have contended with when it comes to making smaller-scale changes. Kim shared that ASAP has tried for many years to change the stickers in all Tufts bathrooms advertising the survivor support resources available, but to no avail. “The way that [the orange stickers in bathrooms are] phrased is pretty aggressive, especially for survivors. ASAP has tried for four years [to change them].”
Donovan shared a similar view as Kim, stating, “I think that OEO’s goal with all those stickers in all those bathrooms [is] wherever you are on this campus, if you are using a bathroom, then that sticker is there.” Donovan explained, however, that the stickers may make survivors relive their traumatic experiences. She said, “Although we [CARE] are on the sticker, that’s not really our style of doing it.”
Despite ASAP’s efforts to change the stickers by creating alternatives, the University has not cooperated in allowing any changes to be made. Spaulding shared, “We’ve designed a sticker multiple times now and have different ideas of how [they] could be a message of saying ‘are you a survivor, there is support for you’ without it being triggering and it actually being empowering. So why wouldn’t they take that? We did all the labor, we are doing it for free, all we need for them is to let us peel the stickers off and put [ours] on.”
Spaulding highlighted the lack of institutional support for survivors demonstrated by the University’s unwillingness to change the stickers. “That’s the smallest example of the bureaucracy of Tufts of being like, ‘how are we going to pay for all that? And who’s going to take off all the stickers?’” she said. “For something as small as that.”
The lack of policy changes by Tufts––whether on a micro or macro scale––are examples of how Tufts could better educate the community and support survivors. The administration has the most power in creating policies and processes that best fit students’ needs, which currently do not support survivors in essential ways.
Spaulding shared that when survivors reach out for support from the University, there are many bureaucratic processes in place that can be triggering.
“Disclosing should be the hardest part and then you should get help from there. Instead, you disclose and you’re met with a wave of people being like, ‘Well is it really that bad? Did it really happen? Are you sure you need to move? Are you sure you need to see a therapist?’ It should be [that] you tell someone and you are welcomed and cared for,” she said. “It’s honestly more burdensome for some people to say something and be met with all of this doubt… at an institutional level.”
A Tufts student shared their experience of going through the OEO reporting process, and how they felt the institution could do more. “I think that survivors such as myself often walk away from OEO reporting processes feeling like we didn’t get what we wanted out of it. I speak from my own experience. When I went through my reporting process, for reporting an instance of sexual violence, I walked away from OEO feeling like they hadn’t done enough to protect me. And that they could have done more,” they said.
They also emphasized the disparity between the power that Tufts had to support the student and Tufts’s inaction in their situation. “It was fully within [OEO’s] power to do more and yet [they] chose not to. I understand that [OEO] is an investigative and disciplinary body and has restrictions in policy and law, but I know that in my case––they quite simply did not do enough when they could have. When they told me that they could have. And chose not to.”