Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and suicide.
Dear Ms. Katherine Sloan Snedaker,
Your brave op-ed on Oct. 1 moved me very much because your experiences were so similar to mine and because my experiences prove that Tufts has misled you about the extent to which it has changed how it handles sexual assault at an institutional level.
I was raped in September of my first year at Tufts in 2013. I was 18. My rapist lived one floor above mine in Hill Hall, and the rape occurred in his dorm room. I loved school then and was proud to study my dream major at my dream college. I negotiated for hours to leave his room, and when I finally did, I could not sleep. I took a really hot shower for a really long time. It wasn’t enough. I washed my clothes, my sheets, everything. I fell asleep watching the sun come up.
Two days later, a hallmate saw me sneaking in the back entrance of Hill. He guessed that something was wrong with me, and I told him the story in tears. He took it upon himself to take me to my resident assistant’s (RA) room. My RA looked scared when I told him what had happened, like a deer caught in headlights. This was how I reported my rape.
The next month was a blur of nurses, needles, police officers, paperwork, phone numbers. Who knows how much I went to class? I moved out of Hill Hall and into Tilton Hall. My rapist began harassing me once he was notified that I had filed a report against him. Over the next few weeks and months, I would see him several times weekly as he loitered outside my classes, my best friends’ dorms, my dorm. The No-Contact Order imposed on both of us after the report had been filed stipulated that either of us could face suspension by seeking out the other person. I reported the harassment to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, but every time, instead of doing something about it, an administrator simply repeated to me his claims that the incidences were all coincidental. I could not understand why, if Student Affairs had to haul my rapist into its office every week, it would not consider asking deeper questions. I was afraid and on edge. When I brought my frustrations to a staff member I trusted and mentioned that my parents had started speaking to private attorneys, I was told that Tufts’ Title IX legal resources were best qualified to handle my concerns and had my best interests at heart. I thought I could trust her.
During the spring semester that year, I lost hope and considered taking my life. Instead, I texted another Tufts student who ran to my room and talked me out of it. It was a dark spring semester where I isolated myself from my friends and holed up in my room.
You said you left out of fear. I left out of hopelessness. I had followed the path prescribed by Tufts and then was failed by its reporting system. I reported my rape in September, and I did not receive the university’s response until the week before my spring semester finals. I spent the whole academic year hiding from my rapist and begging Tufts to do something about it. At the end of the investigation, the decision was that Tufts would suspend him for one semester. The decision explicitly stated that the adjudicating panel believed from the evidence collected that my rapist had committed an act of sexual misconduct against me. The disciplinary handbook at the time defined suspension as appropriate for “non-sexual assault” and expulsion as appropriate for “more serious assault.” I could not understand why, then, the panel felt it safe for him to return. I felt hopeless the semester he returned: hopeless about leaving my room, hopeless about turning in my homework, absolutely hopeless about my future. There was no more fear because there was nothing left to fear. I had walked the path to the very end. It was during the spring semester he returned, my second lonely spring semester at Tufts, that I learned I indeed had to choose between my dream college and my dreams. Even with changes to Tufts’ sexual misconduct reporting system and after 30 years, the end result was the same. Once I had withdrawn and returned home, I too cut off all my hair, but it was to cleanse what Tufts did to me. It took two years to rebuild myself enough to transfer to another university.
I learned that Tufts never prioritized my well-being. Instead, its administrators encouraged me to utilize their own medical and advocacy services when they knew I had access to unbiased support systems through my parents. They ignored my complaints about my safety once they were certain I was not a legal threat. I do not know how anyone is expected to survive four years under such conditions. Tufts continues to uphold these conditions despite sending you an official apology and admission that there were many others like you that had contacted Tufts with similar stories.
Details did not matter. I was praised several times throughout my reporting process for how my detailed story never changed. Belief did not matter. The panel convened to review the investigation report believed me. What mattered was that no one cared enough to protect me. Tufts’ two official resources for survivors of sexual assault and harassment were its Office of Equal Opportunity (the Title IX office) and its Student Affairs office. The Office of Equal Opportunity did its best to help me, but its staff struggled to meet my needs given its conflicting interests as both university administrators and protectors of equal opportunity. The Student Affairs office flat-out did not seem to care and instead manipulated my vulnerability at every turn.
Although this conversation currently swells at a national level, change happens at all levels. Change must happen at Tufts, especially if it will not happen in any of our branches of government. Sufficient change did not happen at Tufts in the thirty years between when you dropped out and when I dropped out. In fact, change now threatens to move in the opposite direction. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will soon release a set of new, looser guidelines for Title IX compliance on college campuses, with the goal of easing the supposed burden on those accused of sexual assault. We must now pressure Tufts both to maintain the standards of the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines and improve its implementation of these guidelines, especially with regards to investigation timelines and No-Contact Orders. It will be in the university’s economic interests to adopt the laxer policies, but students like you and me cannot afford it. This is why, on occasion, when asked why I left Tufts, I will say the real reason: Tufts refused to protect me from my rapist, and it changed my life.