Editorial: Tufts’ failures on sexual assault extend beyond Title IX

Tufts and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education have been at loggerheads over the last few years. Passed in 1972, Title IX is a federal statute that mandates gender equity in educational programs receiving federal funding. Many people view Title IX as a federal statute solely linked to gender equity for collegiate sports teams, but this law also governs activities ranging from access to higher education as well as laws pertaining to sexual harassment and assault. Universities and colleges that fail to meet standards set by Title IX risk losing federal research money, which Tufts encountered when the OCR released a report accusing the university of failing to reach Title IX standards. 

According to an Aug. 31 Daily article, the university’s debacle with Title IX began in 2010, when a student filed a complaint with the OCR alleging discrimination surrounding her report of sexual assault. A subsequent 2014 report by OCR found that Tufts had allowed for the continuation of a hostile environment and denied [students] access to educational opportunities at the university.” The report noted that if the university did not properly correct its procedures and rework the wording of its policies, the Office for Civil Rights had the ability “to terminate federal funding” for the school. After much student protest and national and local media attention, the university came to a 16-page agreement detailing the new university policies. Although the university continually creates new standards and new positions to combat sexual assault, there are strong disincentives — protecting the university’s reputation by avoiding acknowledgement of sexual assault cases and facing off against the legal gauntlet of perpetrators and victims — that discourage the scale of reform needed on our campus.

Less than a year after the investigation and agreement with the OCR, in the spring semester of 2015, Tufts’ Office for Equal Opportunity (OEO) issued the “Tufts Attitudes About Sexual Conduct Survey.” The survey itself revealed that 21 percent of Tufts students do not agree with the claim that the administration is genuinely concerned about their welfare. If one in five respondents feel as though the university is not genuinely concerned with their safety and well-being, then significant problems clearly exist. The university has updated its regulations to match Title IX, whether dragging its feet or not, but there remain serious questions as to whether those changes are meaningful. The university has significant tools, but for people like Wagatwe Wanjuki — whom the university asked to withdraw for “academic reasons” after failing to bring legal action against the person who sexually assaulted her — the tools were not employed. We, the student body, not only owe it to ourselves and our peers, but to future Jumbos, to advocate for Tufts to follow Title IX‘s stipulations in spirit and in letter of the law, especially today as many of us graduate and new Jumbos arrive in the fall.

However, we should not keep holding grudges about the past and discount the numerous efforts made by the university in complying with the Title IX, preventing sexual assaults, reaching out and protecting students in need. The creation of the aforementioned university-wide survey is an evidence of the school administration’s commitment to look at the hard truth and be transparent about the current loopholes and problems that the administration still needs to address. This step is a 180-degree improvement as compared to most colleges’ tendency to hide their ugliness and sweep it under the rug. Furthermore, the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force, who have been working on this issue since 2013, is commendable for some new major changes and additions to Tufts’ procedures in addressing sexual misconduct. To name a few examples based on a newsletter by President Monaco,in response to students’ request new positions like Sexual Misconduct Resource Specialist and Sexual Misconduct Prevention Specialist were created, along with the Center for Awareness, Resources and Education (CARE) to further equip the university in this matter and provide better support to students sexually offended.

Last but not least, the increase in number of various trainings held throughout the year in various aspects of dealing with sexual misconducts implies the importance of a strong collaboration between the school administration, faculty, staff and the student body to bring about the success of the policy changes, to prevent these unwanted incidents, report them, assist the victims and protect ourselves. Students should not pass the responsibility entirely on the university. This doesn’t mean we stop pointing out the administration’s weaknesses or vocalizing our constructive criticisms. To comply with the Title IX and to ensure increasing campus safety require everybody in the Tufts community to be actively onboard and work with one another.