Content Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
Tufts Democrats released a petition last week calling on the university to rescind an honorary degree given to Missouri Governor Eric Greitens in 2012 in response to recent allegations of sexual assault against him. The petition also called on Greitens to resign.
Greitens also spoke at Tufts’ commencement in 2012, receiving a doctor of humane letters at the ceremony. The Board of Trustees website states that honorary degree recipients are recommended by members of the Tufts community to the Honorary Degree Committee within the Board of Trustees, which reviews nominations and recommends candidates to be voted on by the entire board.
The allegations against Greitens, which KMOV-4 St. Louis first reported on as an extramarital affair in January, refer to events during the 2016 gubernatorial election season in Missouri.
Misha Linnehan, president of the Tufts Democrats, described the nature of these allegations.
“He was accused of sexually assaulting his hairdresser, locking her in his house [and] making sure she couldn’t leave. He tied her to exercise equipment, he sexually assaulted her and he took pictures of her without her knowledge,” Linnehan, a senior, said.
Linnehan added that Greitens then used the pictures and degrading language to blackmail his hairdresser so that she would be too afraid to speak out. Local news sources, such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, confirm Linnehan’s statements. Greitens received calls to resign for these offenses.
Greitens will also be charged with two felony counts of tampering with computer data. Greitens used a list of charity donors to solicit campaign funds, according to the Dispatch.
Kathryn Jason, a Tufts Democrats member who created the petition, said that using a petition increased the capacity for students to participate in organizing for this cause.
“We thought that a Change.org petition would be a way to have students who aren’t in a club or a club that’s not willing to make a political statement to … get involved,” Jason, a junior, said. “The description of cites the fact that Tufts rescinded the honorary degree given to Bill Cosby after allegations of sexual assault against him.”
Jason feels that Tufts can use its position to send a message to both victims and perpetrators of sexual assault.
“With this behavior coming out, I think it’s important for Tufts to say that this behavior doesn’t deserve a place on our campus or anywhere, so I think that revoking that degree is a statement that Tufts isn’t going to tolerate that behavior,” she said.
Linnehan stated that, before presenting the petition to the administration and the Board of Trustees, he will mostly likely want around 200 or 300 signatures. At the time of publication, 70 people have signed the petition.
In addition, the Tufts Democrats made a Facebook post calling for the revocation of Greitens’ honorary degree and his resignation from the office of the governor.
The Tufts Republicans also circulated a statement on their Facebook page calling for the revocation of Greitens’ degree and an end to his career in public office.
“There’s no place in our party, the Republican Party, for people who assault women violently and then further blackmail them,” George Behrakis, Tufts Republicans president, said.
Behrakis, a sophomore, added that punishing those accused of sexual assault should not be a partisan issue, making the decision to support rescinding the degree “easy.” He added that the Tufts Republicans planned to circulate the Democrats’ petition.
“If we wouldn’t speak out over it because he’s a Republican … then we’re not standing on principle, and the principle is violence is not okay, you can’t assault women and go unpunished,” Behrakis said.
Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, explained why Greitens initially received the degree.
“Missouri Governor Eric Greitens is a decorated Navy Seal and former Truman and Rhodes Scholar who went on to become a respected humanitarian and an award-winning author. He was selected by the honorary degree committee of the Board of Trustees because of his achievements and commitment to service,” he told the Daily in an email.
Although Collins is aware of Greitens’ actions, it remains unclear whether the administration will take any action, including rescinding the degree.
“We are aware of and deeply disturbed by the troubling allegations against Gov. Greitens,” Collins said. “We are closely following the legal proceedings in his case and we await the resolution of the allegations against him.”
Linnehan responded to this statement, highlighting the moral responsibility the university holds as a public platform.
“They have a platform to make a statement. This behavior is not acceptable from people that we’re trying to showcase to our students and they clearly decided not to do that … Obviously just that’s pretty awful,” he said. “The allegations against him are so ridiculous, they’re so strong, the things that he’s done are so awful that to have to wait around for the legal proceedings just seems to me to be crazy.”
Linnehan expressed hope that the university would reverse this statement, given the potential student response.
Behrakis, similarly disappointed in this response by the university, emphasized the validity of the accusations.
“I’m all for due process and you’ve got to wait until the evidence gets presented on both sides, but in this case I think it’s pretty clear that there was a credible accusation [of blackmail],” he said.
Behrakis added that Greitens’ previous career is inconsequential, given the weight of his transgressions.
“It’s two separate parts of the person,” Behrakis said. “If you have him, an otherwise distinguished person doing something really bad like that, you have to take away the degree. They don’t deserve the recognition.”
In response to these concerns, Collins said he would let his previous statement on the allegations stand.
Linnehan emphasized that, although the end of the year is a busy time for most students, this issue should still be on the community members’ minds.
“It’s finals season, people are going to be really busy,” Linnehan said. “This is the kind of thing that could just fall through the cracks if no one really takes note and gets interested and tries to be active around this issue.”