Alexandra Donovan, co-founder of Tufts CARE, poses for a photo in the basement of Health Services on Oct. 17. (Lilia Kang / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts CARE tackles consent, condoms, candid questions about sex

Seeing the need for a resource that would cater to the needs of victims of sexual assault and misconduct as well as educate the student body about sex, Alexandra Donovan, sexual misconduct prevention specialist, and Nandi Boyne, sexual misconduct resource specialist, created the Tufts Center for Awareness, Resources and Education (CARE) in April 2014.

While the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) primarily deals with the legal side of responding to reports of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and discrimination, CARE, whose main office is located in the basement of Health Service, aims to interact more with the student body on a more day-to-day basis and maintain an open dialogue surrounding sexual activity, health and wellbeing, according to Donovan.

Donovan explained that CARE, which she said was officially recognized by Tufts in 2015, gave her and Boyne an outlet to provide these resources.

[Boyne] and I offer very different kinds of services [than OEO does], and to distinguish ourselves, we created CARE, which we felt better identified what we were doing and what we are about,” Donovan said.

Donovan, who works with students, faculty and staff, said she has been working in interpersonal violence for 20 years and has devoted her time at Tufts to creating a safe, candid environment to talk about sex.

Boyne works with sexual assault and violence victims to guide them through the steps that victims will sometimes take after experiencing sexual violence or misconduct, such as getting counseling and finding alternate housing.

“What I’m really here to do is to be the bridge between students and the resources that are available both on campus and off,” Boyne said.

Boyne also works with friends, partners and others to support those who have experienced sexual misconduct or violence, in order to give them the additional support that they need to deal with the situation.

Building CARE into what it is now took time, patience and student support, according to Donovan.

“The first year it was very quiet,” she said. “[Boyne and I] were very clear on what we wanted to do in creating CARE, but [figuring out] how we wanted to advertise it [and] what programs we were offering … took a year and a lot of other students being involved.”

Donovan added that opening up a dialogue about sexual misconduct on campus is an important aspect of what CARE does. One way that CARE accomplishes this is by having Ariel Watriss, a nurse practitioner at Health Service, answer anonymous questions in videos posted to CARE’s Facebook page.

“What we have found is that there are a lot of questions around consent and around boundaries,” Donovan said. “These are the questions we really want to talk to students about.”

One way in which CARE has worked to spread sexual education and safety awareness is through its partnerships with student groups on campus. In the past, Donovan has partnered with sports teams in support of Green Dot, a national program that focuses on fighting against power-based violence, including sexual violence and misconduct. Several Tufts sports teams, notably Women’s Rugby Football Club,  have dedicated their homecoming matches to building awareness of and support for the Green Dot campaign.

According to Donovan, CARE allows students to promote the particular issues they care about in the ways that they want. Donovan wants student groups to feel empowered to put their own spin on the programs and the ideas for which CARE stands.

In addition to the many separate student groups working with CARE, there are also students involved in helping with programming and events. CARE Intern Max Farber helps plan programming, encourages greater student involvement and works on the educational side of CARE.

“I work more on educational programs about sex ed, sex toys, consent … more specifically through the sex ed lens,” Farber, a senior majoring in sociology and a dual degree student through the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts, said.

Recently, Farber has been working on Jumbo’s Condom Circus, a CARE initiative that emphasizes the importance of safe sex. Through this online service, students can order free condoms and diaphragms to be delivered to their residence hall. 

Farber said that individuals can order kits for themselves, selecting whichever items they want; resident assistants (RAs) can also ask for a bulk package that they can offer to students living on their floor.

Farber also sits on Sex in the Dark panels, which are hosted by CARE and held in dimly lit venues so that people can ask candid, anonymous questions about sex, hook-up culture, consent or anything else regarding sex. He feels that these events are important in opening up discussions and taking away the stigma associated with conversations about sex.

“As you break down those boundaries so people can just talk about sex, a lot is allowed to come up in public and private settings,” he said. “So by breaking down those boundaries, you encourage people to have conversations about consent, testing, what you like and dislike and what makes you feel good … and that is all part of a dialogue around consent.”

According to Donovan, the staff and volunteers working at CARE aim to make students feel comfortable with how the material is being presented in the hope of having as much impact on the student body as possible. Therefore, one of CARE’s primary goals is to tailor its programming to the Tufts community, she explained.

“It took me the first year to understand Tufts and Tufts culture,” Donovan said. “It is unique … it’s very progressive and Tufts students are very particular about things.” 

Given that Tufts students often already have a certain level of knowledge surrounding sexual health, Farber believes that CARE should respond accordingly.

“A lot of students on campus already have a knowledge base, so when approaching them, you have to [acknowledge what] … they already know,” Farber said. “I think people on this campus are very progressive, and there are a lot of particularities with that, with what things are appropriate and with how things should be implemented.”

Ultimately, CARE’s mission is to make people feel safe, heard and informed. Donovan hopes that CARE can serve as the jumping-off point for students to engage in safe, consensual and pleasurable sexual activities if they so choose.

“Let’s empower people to do whatever they want to do, no matter what’s happening on campus,” Donovan said. “You do you.”

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