Wagatwe Wanjuki is one of the most influential former Tufts students, but she does not have a degree from this institution. No, she didn’t choose to leave to pursue her activism full-time, though her success may lead you to believe that. Instead, Tufts forced Wagatwe to withdraw. It is time that we attempt to rectify this injustice and award Ms. Wanjuki an honorary degree with the class of 2015.
Wagatwe suffered sexual abuse by an intimate partner while attending Tufts and attempted to report this back in 2008, before the issue of campus sexual violence had received widespread media attention. Tufts’ institutional response was that, well, they didn’t have to investigate it. She never got a hearing, and nothing happened to her assailant. He graduated, and is now out in the world, representing Tufts as an alumnus. While her assailant was able to graduate, her time at Tufts took a different course.
Oftentimes, survivors of sexual violence see their academics falter, and understandably so — depression, anxiety and PTSD all have the ability to become commonplace in the life of a survivor. This happened to Wagatwe and countless Tufts students before and after her, including one of the authors of this op-ed. Then in 2009, the Dean of Undergraduate Education at the time — someone who now carries even more power as the current interim Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and also served as her abuser’s academic adviser — told Wagatwe that she must withdraw from Tufts University due to academic concerns. However, at the time of her forced permanent withdrawal, Wagatwe’s GPA was still high enough to qualify her for graduation– an incredibly impressive feat for a student who lived with an abusive relationship and subsequent silencing by the administration. She was given no leniency, none of the academic accommodations required by federal law to make sure an environment is not hostile to survivors.
Wagatwe will soon graduate, six years behind schedule, with a degree in sociology from Rutgers University. However, in her time since being forced out of Tufts, Wagatwe has become one of the leading voices on campus sexual assault and feminism. She has appeared on BET, Democracy Now!, The Daily Show and MSNBC. She is a contributor to Feministing and began the popular blog Fuck Yeah, Feminists!, as well as the nationally-trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege. This past week she was named one of The Root 100, a list of the top African Americans 45 and under who are making a difference. She does all of this without yet having a college degree to her name, and while still paying back loans for attending Tufts for a degree she never received.
Wagatwe is making a difference in the way this nation talks and thinks about campus sexual assault and intimate partner violence. She is a powerhouse of an activist, whose career represents the best of Tufts — she took a horrible experience and turned it into substantive, societal change. Tufts purports to instill in us values of active citizenship — no citizen is more active than Ms. Wanjuki. It is time for the university to right the wrong from 2009 by awarding Wagatwe Wanjuki an honorary degree this May.
Over the past few weeks, we and a group of students have submitted nominations to the Board of Trustees on behalf of Wagatwe Wanjuki and today we launch a petition on Change.org to show our support for this endeavor. Today, we call on Ioannis N. Miaoulis and the rest of the Trustees serving on the Honorary Degree Committee to give Wagatwe Wanjuki, a much-deserved, long overdue degree from this institution, to show our gratitude for her work and our contrition for the wrongs enacted against her by this institution. Let us right this wrong — it’s about time we did.