Letter from the Editor

To members of the Tufts community,

On Mar. 11, the Tufts Daily published the news article “At least four sexual misconduct cases occur in uphill dorms over one weekend.” The story detailed four different incidents that had allegedly occurred in on-campus dorms within residential Area 1 and Area 2 regions of the university. Following the publication of this story, various Daily editors and I reexamined the story that was published on Friday and the process by which our reporting was conducted, and found that there were instances where the reporting within the story was inaccurate or misrepresentative of the reality of the incidents that occurred.

First and foremost, the way that the multiple incidents were framed in the story make them appear as if they were all linked and indicative of a pattern. The intention of the story was to outline that the incidents all occurred within the same weekend, but we operated under the false and unconfirmed assumption that the incidents were perpetrated by the same person. The Daily also made the choice to publish the name of the residence hall where the sexual assault incident took place, information that we learned in the process of speaking with various RAs and on-campus student residents. In retrospect, we realize that the publication of the name of the residence hall where the alleged assault took place and the combination of a map graphic could be harmful to the victim of the assault, who had requested that the university maintain confidentiality of their identity from the community. The Daily in no way meant to narrow down the identity of a student who had experienced assault and create an environment where other victims or survivors would feel unsafe to report information to the administration out of a fear that their identity could be revealed. Additionally, we regret that we did not include a trigger warning at the beginning of this story in order to take into consideration the feelings of those who have previously experienced sexual assault or other types of sexual misconduct.

Another major problem with the published story was the mischaracterization of all the incidents that occurred within uphill residential dormitories as cases of sexual misconduct. According to the Tufts OEO website, sexual misconduct is defined as “a form of discrimination based on sex or gender that violates federal Title IX regulations and is prohibited by Tufts policy,” which includes actions such as “stalking, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sex discrimination and relationship violence.” The sexual assault reported in a Feb. 26 email to the Tufts community by TUPD does fall under the definition of sexual misconduct. However, the two incidents that were described to have taken place in Miller Hall, where an unknown person “put their arm into an occupied shower stall” — according to an email by Tanya Mascary, the area residence director of Area 1 — do not technically constitute sexual misconduct. Since the incidents are still under investigation, and the full details have not yet become clear, it was not accurate to imply that the incidents were of a sexual nature or to categorize them as sexual misconduct.

Another part of the story that should have been further investigated before being published is the fourth incident that was referenced by an anonymous resident assistant (RA) from Area 1, who told the Daily that they reported hearing from Mascary that an incident occurred in Carmichael Hall. The nature of the incident was not revealed and neither Mascary nor Mohamed Barakat, the area residence director of Area 2, were able to confirm that the Carmichael incident happened. There should have been greater care taken to fact-check this fourth incident, and in the future, information that is only confirmed by one secondary source require further substantiation before they are published in the paper as a fact. Consequently, the part of the story stating that Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon was unaware of the two incidents not described in emails to students is inaccurate. McMahon was actually aware of the two incidents in Miller Hall and the sexual assault incident.

The Daily was also alerted to the fact that a few of the sources we spoke to reported not understanding that they were speaking to the campus paper on the record. While we are confused about how this happened when all sources were informed that they were speaking to Daily reporters, and only one source interviewed was not recorded, we find these reports alarming, and we hope to continuously reinforce that sources speaking to Daily reporters are on the record unless they specify that information is off the record in future interviews.

While everything in the story was attributed, we realize that in the reporting process of this story, we prioritized informing the community about the various incidents — which we found to be concerning for the safety of the Tufts community — over the absolute accuracy of all information in the story. Additionally, while we know that there was at least one instance where Daily reporters should have connected with sources, such as members of TUPD, earlier, some of our reporting was hindered by email-only communication or sources who were discouraged from speaking with the Daily. I take full responsibility for the flaws in the reporting and fact-checking process of this story, and hope that the Daily can take this as a learning opportunity to be more vigilant about the accuracy of our stories and the implications of what we publish. We will be retracing the full reporting process of this story to find the areas that were problematic and learn from those mistakes.

Ultimately, however, the bulk of the story was accurate and important for the Daily to report — we value the safety of the community above all else, which is why we decided to report on the incidents to begin with. Without transparency about these various incidents, residents of on-campus dorms will not understand the extent to which they need to take steps to protect themselves. However, the focus of our story was not about the nature of the incidents, but about the perceived lack of communication between ARDs and RAs about the incidents, the disparity in this communication across residential areas and the increase in TUPD presence around uphill residences following these incidents. Many RAs we spoke to throughout the course of this story were ignorant about these incidents outside of the two that were emailed out, and many did not report any type of communication from their ARDs about the incidents or how they should be communicating with their residents.

We hope that like the Daily strives to be, the university will also be transparent about what is happening on campus and will continue to maintain dialogue with the Daily and students, so that everyone is informed about anything that could be pertinent to the safety of the community. We hope that administrators will continue to be forthcoming in whatever capacity they can to Daily reporters, so that accurate information can be disseminated, and there won’t be mischaracterizations or misrepresentations of what is occurring on campus.

Reporting on a community that we occupy is always difficult because we as student journalists are stakeholders in the stories that we are publishing. Above all, we strive for accuracy, transparency and helping, not harming, everyone in the Tufts community. Please reach out to me at daily@tuftsdaily.com if you have any questions or concerns about the reporting of this story.

Sincerely,

Sarah Zheng

Editor in Chief

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One Response

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  1. Drew Wright
    Mar 17, 2016 - 01:17 PM

    I think you are apologizing a bit too much here.

    You are a newspaper. Reporting on the location of the incident (what dorm it happened in) is part of your job. There’s no reason whatsoever to apologize for that. It’s simply good journalism. If you published the victim’s name without their consent, that would be something to apologize for. But by reporting the location you are serving the community. People have a right to know where this happened.

    I also don’t know any newspaper anywhere that includes a trigger warning simply for reporting on this kind of incident. On a detailed personal account, maybe, but not for a just-the-facts-ma’am news story.

    Anyone answering questions to a reporter for a newspaper, especially while there’s a recorder running, knows they are on the record. Unless the recorder was concealed or the source asked to be off the record, you should stand by your reporter and not apologize.

    The second-hand source thing sounds messy, as does the unverified “fourth incident” issue. You are right to apologize for those, but in my opinion, this letter should be much shorter and focused on the areas where you actually made mistakes.

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