Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual violence.
The university released the results of last spring’s confidential Tufts Attitudes About Sexual Conduct Survey in an email to the Tufts community last week.
According to the Sept. 30 email, approximately 14 percent of undergraduate respondents reported having had at least one incident of “non-consensual sexual contact” since enrolling at Tufts, with five percent of respondents reporting non-consensual sexual intercourse.
Of the approximately 11,000 Tufts students who had access to the survey, around 28.7 percent responded, which is comparable to response rates for similar surveys at other universities, according to University President Anthony Monaco.
Tufts’ survey was mandated by the federal government’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) as part of a voluntary resolution agreement (VRA) in spring 2014. The VRA emerged from a 2010 Title IX complaint that culminated in OCR’s determination that Tufts’ policies and procedures for addressing sexual assault were out of compliance with federal standards set by Title IX.
“Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity,” the U.S. Department of Justice website says.
The VRA, which was signed by University Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mary Jeka on April 17, 2014, but from which the Tufts administration revoked its signature nine days later, was resettled on May 9 of that year.
“One of the provisions in [the VRA] is that we would conduct a climate survey,” Jeka said. “So we did that. It had to be done last spring.”
Tufts’ survey was modeled on one written by the Association of American Universities (AAU). Twenty-six other universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton University, have also used AAU-based surveys, according to Monaco.
Monaco said the purpose of the university’s survey was to understand the climate surrounding sexual conduct at Tufts and to get a baseline understanding of the frequency of sexual misconduct or assault.
“We got a lot of information which will help us understand how our interventions, training and resource focus has been making a difference, so we need this baseline to measure things going forward,” he said.
According to Jill Zellmer, the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and Title IX Coordinator, the survey was put together by the students, faculty and staff from Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force. The Task Force, which was formed in fall 2013, is chaired by Monaco.
“A number of those students [on the Task Force] had a lot of good information and input into the survey, which is the home-grown feel of our survey, which is why I think it’s better,” Zellmer said.
Olivia Carle, who was a student co-chair for the education and prevention working group on the Task Force, said that at first she and other students were not able to review the survey.
“Initially, students weren’t going to be allowed to review the survey before it was sent out…[but] we argued successfully [for student input],” Carle, a junior, said. “We thought it was outrageous.”
Despite being able to review the survey for input, Carle said she still felt that there were many problems with it.
“I remember the initial reaction to the final product of the survey among my activist friends was just shock and horror because it completely missed whole kinds of questions and areas it should have been covering,” Carle said.
She explained that areas missing from the survey included forms of sexual violence outside of sexual assault and rape, such as sexual harassment, catcalling and partner violence.
“That was sort of a big problem because those are huge issues, and for me sexual violence is all interconnected and it’s not a cut-and-dry sort of thing,” she said.
Zellmer acknowledged in a report on the survey’s results that the survey primarily assessed incidents of non-consensual sexual intercourse and penetration and non-consensual sexual contact and activity.
“[The survey] did not focus on incidents of sexual harassment, stalking or intimate partner violence,” she wrote in the report. “We may address those topics more thoroughly in future climate checks or surveys.”
Carle said that in addition to missing areas of sexual violence, she felt that the survey did not fully address gender identity.
“A ton of my friends were really, really disappointed in this survey,” she said. “I know it’s going to be used sort of as a backbone or a starting point for comparisons with other surveys, [but] it’s not a good way to start out because there’s a ton of information that we’re missing or that we don’t know.”
She further explained issues she had with the term “sexual misconduct,” which was used often throughout the survey.
“It puts more of a rosy tint on everything,” Carle said, “I’ve never liked the term ‘sexual misconduct’ as an individual, and I’d say sexual violence because it is violence — it’s traumatic.”
Zellmer said that the term “sexual misconduct” was used in the survey because it has become a national term understood to encompass “sexual harassment, sex and gender discrimination, stalking, domestic violence, relationship violence, sexual exploitation.”
“At most universities now that is the regulation, so I would say it’s not to diminish that it’s violent,” she said. “It’s not to diminish that it’s important, and we’re not trying to sugarcoat it by calling it ‘misconduct.’ It’s just a way to describe all the incidents in a more global way and also so it’s not triggering for anyone.”
Jeka described other stipulations of the VRA, including the changes Tufts was required to make to its sexual assault policies in order to be in compliance with Title IX.
“There were a number of places they thought we weren’t in compliance with our policies, so those have now been fixed,” she said.
Jeka explained that these changes included a required training program and revisions to the Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process (SMAP).
“They require us to train our entire community, so Jill Zellmer has been taking the laboring oar on that, and all students, faculty and staff are undergoing mandatory training programs,” she said.
According to Monaco, the university is hoping to draft a final report of the Task Force’s findings, including all of its recommendations for the future, which will likely include a steering committee.
“The working groups will continue as well, so there’s not going to be a lot of changes in membership,” he said. “It’s time to make a final report, plus the recommendations.”
Zellmer wrote in the report on the survey results that she is looking forward to working with the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force this fall to review the information gained from the survey.
“We will use the data to further enhance the resources, educational and prevention efforts throughout the university,” she wrote.
According to the results of the survey, 70.3 percent of student respondents reported that they knew how to seek confidential counseling about sexual misconduct, 92.3 percent of students that they felt happy and 95.9 percent of people that they felt safe at Tufts.
Zellmer said that students who are reporting sexual misconduct are getting resources and support on campus.
However, Carle said the available resources for survivors of sexual violence at Tufts are not sufficient.
“Mental Health Services is really lacking,” she said. “I personally wasn’t able to go there after a semester and part of the summer, [before] they said, ‘Yeah, you’re done now’ and I thought, ‘I’m not done.’ There just is clearly such a need for these mental health resources, and it’s not being provided.”
In addition to a lack of resources, Carle said her experience on the Task Force was a negative one.
“I sort of became really disillusioned with my role in the Task Force,” she said. “A lot of really terrible things were happening in [those] meetings. I would often leave meetings really upset or very triggered, and it made it very difficult to cope for the next couple of days.”
Carle explained that she hopes the administrators on the Task Force will receive sensitivity training so that students who had experienced sexual violence will not be triggered in future meetings.
“If you were a survivor in one of those meetings, it was going to be hell,” she said. “I wasn’t being treated like a student anymore; I was being treated like a political opponent.”
However, Jeka praised the considerable effort put forth by everyone involved with the Task Force and the survey.
“The students, the staff, the faculty spent hours and hours — I don’t know how many,” she said. “It was an incredible effort by students and staff and faculty working together and side by side, so it took a little longer, but we think that was very valuable.”
Monaco said that while the university has done a lot of work — including launching its new Center for Awareness, Resources and Education (CARE) and communicating more about sexual assault issues for students in places such as the OEO website — sexual misconduct on the Tufts campus still needs to be addressed.
“Personally, I still see [the survey results] as unacceptable,” Monaco said. “[And] as you can see from these numbers, we have a long way to go.”