For second year, ‘It Happens Here’ at Tufts

2/23/15 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Cohen Auditorium in the Aidekman Art Center on February 23, 2015. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Before a packed Cohen Auditorium, more than 30 sexual assault survivors shared their stories last night during the second annual iteration of “It Happens Here” at Tufts.

Since two Middlebury College students created “It Happens Here” in 2011, an increasing number of colleges nationwide have hosted the forum, through which those who have faced sexual violence can disclose their account firsthand or submit a story for another student to read on stage. Tufts hosted its first “It Happens Here” last April for a similarly crowded event.

While an hour shorter than last 2014’s “It Happens Here,” last night’s event provided an uninterrupted platform for survivors to talk through different components of their experience facing sexual violence. Audience members were instructed not to applaud.

Highlighting the lasting impact of rape and sexual assault on a person’s life, many students voiced the difficulties they face following the incident — of identifying nonconsensual sexual activity as sexual violence, and of the long, tumultuous process of figuring out how to heal from that trauma.

Confirmed by statistics about sexual violence, similar narratives resonated among many of the speaker’s accounts.

For example, several students spoke about an experience with sexual violence during their first year at Tufts. Studies have demonstrated that college women are at higher risk for sexual assault during the period of time from their arrival at college to that of their first Thanksgiving break — the so-called “red zone,” according to NPR.

Many also talked about knowing the individual who committed the rape or sexual assault. Some shared details of abusive relationships in which they said their abuser sexually assaulted them. Others discussed either short- or long-term relationships that had been consensual until the incident of sexual violence. These narratives are also consistent with a swath of research that has indicated most victims of sexual violence know the perpetrator.

A few students discussed sexual violence affiliated with Tufts fraternities. From sexual assaults in fraternity parties to those perpetrated by fraternity men (or both), the students’ experiences have also been reflected in statistics about campus sexual assault. Some studies have suggested that those who belong to a fraternity are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than college men not involved in a men’s-only Greek life organization.

Although most of the speakers were female, there was gender diversity among those who shared a story. Members of the steering committee, who organized the event, distinguished themselves by wearing a yellow flower.

Following “It Happens Here,” the Interfaith Center invited students to partake of an assortment of comfort foods provided in the building or speak with chaplaincy members during their extended office hours last night. Sexual Misconduct Resource Specialist Nandi Bynoe (A ’09), who took the post at Tufts earlier in the academic year, also made herself available to students who needed to talk after last night’s event.

Tufts’ first “It Happens Here” event last year brought the founder of the blog “Raped at Tufts,” Wagatwe Wanjuki, back to campus for a keynote address. Wanjuki, who is herself a survivor of campus sexual assault at Tufts, was nominated for — but not awarded — an honorary degree this year, six years after she was expelled. Wanjuki has become a national activist since leaving Tufts, testifying before Congress and appearing on television shows such as “The Daily Show” (1996 – present) with Jon Stewart.

Tufts has a storied history handling campus sexual assault. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found the university in violation of Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination on campus. In response, hundreds of students last year protested how the university has structured its sexual assault policy and interaction with survivors.

The Daily has heeded an “It Happens Here” organizer’s request not to quote the speakers or paraphrase individual’s stories in order to maintain their privacy.