Sexual Violence Working Group fosters awareness

A new university-wide Sexual Violence Working Group, spearheaded by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), will meet throughout the semester to address sexual assault prevention and awareness among students and to make current university policies regarding sexual assault readily available and visible.

The working group, comprised of administrators, faculty, staff and students from the Grafton, Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses, aims to revise the university’s approach to combating sexual violence, according to Violence Prevention Education Coordinator Elaine Theodore.

“The goal is to have a really diverse group of people and to look at all the issues that affect sexual violence on campus, ranging from reporting, to peer groups, to policy,” she said.

Members of the working group are responsible for making recommendations to a steering committee of administrators and staff about the most effective ways for the campus to confront sexual violence, Theodore said.

The working group includes representatives from many different departments on campus, ensuring that the steering committee will receive a wide array of opinions and suggestions, according to Theodore. The Office of Residential Life and Learning, the Athletics Department, the Tufts University Police Department and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs are represented in the group.

Subcommittees of the larger working group have been meeting to discuss specific topics such as the communication of the sexual assault policy, the reporting of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment prevention training, Theodore said.

“We have people in high positions [on the steering committee] who can see these changes come to fruition and a working group for those who are more in contact with students day to day,” she said.

The steering committee includes OEO Director Jill Zellmer, Title IX Investigator Sonia Jurado, Senior Vice President of University Relations Mary Jeka, Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman, Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter and Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong, as well as other university leaders, according to Theodore.

“A lot of the people on this steering committee feel strongly about being in this working group,” Theodore said. “It’s wonderful because these are people who can really make things happen.”

While the working group is still in its nascent stages, members have already established encouraging students to report episodes of sexual violence as a primary objective, according to Reitman. “There has been a dramatic underreporting of incidents of sexual misconduct,” he said. “It’s the most underreported offense in the college community, whether it’s this college or any other.” The working group has been actively developing a plan of action to improve the communication of sexual assault policies to students, according to Carter. “We’re trying to make the policies as visible as we can,” she said. “How do we get information to students where they’ll read it? Is it through email, through the Daily, or online?”

The working group recently prescribed two changes towards the achievement of that goal, Reitman said. These changes include a link provided on the homepage to direct students to sexual misconduct resources and the inclusion of sexual assault policies in the recently proposed Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate newsletter, according to Reitman.

Student input is an integral part of the subcommittee meetings, with the students on the working group sharing their experiences and proposing new ways to reach out to the Tufts student body regarding sexual violence, according to Theodore.

In early February, Theodore advertised participation in the working group via TuftsLife in an attempt to involve students.

“This group is the place where students are really heard,” Theodore said. “They’re eagerly listened to about what needs to change and how it needs to change.”

Another major concern of the working group is making sure that every student reads and understands the university’s Policy on Sexual Assault and the Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Policy of the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, both of which can be found in the Student Handbook on the Student Affairs website, Reitman explained.

“Usually by the time students are looking for that information, there’s been some trouble,” he said. “Part of the conversation of this group is how to get people to look at that stuff and pay attention beforehand.”

Theodore expressed optimism for the working group to produce substantial changes this semester.

“Things are not perfect right now, but for the first time since I’ve been here, I think that we have stuff on the table that really can be changed,” she said. “I’m pretty excited about this whole effort.”