Op-ed: Two years since Tier Town: The survivor’s manifesto

Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence.

Last year, I wrote an anonymous op-ed detailing my experiences with rape and abuse within Tufts student-activism. It’s now been two years since that cold night in Tier Town, yet despite subsequent calls to action, very little has changed since then.

The culture of sexual violence in Tufts student-activism has only worsened in the past year. The calls to action that I wrote back then — asking for less than the bare minimum — still remain unanswered. The institutions and organizations that allegedly exist to support survivors and students of marginalized genders have failed to do so.

The Tufts Women’s Center knew that it could take action to address sexual violence within Tufts student-activism long before any survivors made public statements about our experiences. We were concerned that the rapist and abuser in question, who had engaged in a pattern of abuse and assault against several transgender students, would be able to cause further harm if the Women’s Center did not take preventative action to ensure that individuals within their community would not enable perpetrators.

Two survivors began the reporting process by discussing their experiences and concerns with Hope Freeman, director of the LGBT Center and interim director of the Women’s Center. Multiple student employees within the Women’s Center were made aware of the situation months before my first op-ed.

When asked how the Women’s Center might act to prevent the possibility of its space being used to enable abuse, Women’s Center community members and student employees responded with denial and defensiveness. Instead of meaningfully addressing the serious issue at hand, they centered the conversation around their feelings and derailed the discussion. When I reminded them that the center had knowingly continued to lend institutional power to those who enabled abusers, an individual labeled my claims “misinformation.” They acted as though the news of the Women’s Center’s complicity was new information, even though I had previously told them I didn’t feel safe there because of their refusal to act. They argued that the topic was so upsetting that they needed myself and other survivors to care for them as they processed the information, and that anything short of enthusiastically providing this emotional labor would be unjust.

This conflict spilled over into other student-activist organizations. I had hoped to discuss the possibility of Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) releasing a statement in support of survivors as a response to my op-ed in a more timely fashion with anyone who was willing and able to do so. As a member of TLC, I felt it was important for my organization to affirm solidarity with this activist issue and reassure me that its space was safe for survivors. In response, another organizer accused me of excluding “the survivors in TLC” as if I was not also a survivor in TLC in need of support, suggesting that because two individuals within the organization found the subject upsetting, no discussion of the issue by any other individuals was allowed until those individuals had processed it sufficiently. Their response showed that they valued the comfort of some over the safety of others. This made me feel unwelcome in the organization, as it seemed that the only acceptable survivors were the ones that did not challenge well-liked campus institutions or hold their friends accountable.

When we returned to campus at the beginning of the spring 2020 semester, an individual who had responded dismissively to the concerns I had raised regarding the culture of defending and enabling abuse in Tufts student-activism would go on to repeatedly make unwanted contact with me, both in person and online. In response, I obtained a Stay Away Request against them.

I could have filed a report with the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) regarding their behavior. I believed that it could fall under harassment, retaliation and stalking, three separate violations of the version of the Sexual Misconduct Policy that was in place at the time. However, after having been through one unhelpful reporting process, I have no faith left in OEO to do anything useful.

Another space implicated in this string of complicit campus institutions was Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), specifically its Survivor Space events. I had previously mentioned this issue to individuals within ASAP leadership, specifying that an individual who attended Survivor Space had taken part in the efforts to derail my call to action, to which they agreed to ask that individual not to attend Survivor Space events. Instead of following through on this promise, those leaders attempted to convince me that my concerns regarding their behavior were more problematic than the behavior itself. They advised me that I needed to stop seeing every adverse action as similar to the abuse I had survived, despite clear parallels that I later outlined in my second op-ed. I felt that I was no longer welcome as a survivor who challenged rape culture within Tufts student-activism, and I stopped attending their events. While the students responsible for excluding me from the space no longer hold leadership positions, ASAP never held them accountable for it.

A mere two days after I published that op-ed, a TLC delegation showed up to my workplace during my shift in order to discuss some issues with a Tufts Dining manager. Even if this was a coincidence, it did succeed in intimidating me.

These spaces all shared one damning response: you knew. And yet, you did nothing.

Every promise made to me has been broken. The policy where OEO will advance to a Formal Complaint and investigation if more than one report is filed against the same respondent? Never initiated with the group of survivors, despite four separate complainants reporting violations of the Sexual Misconduct Policy. The apology that the Women’s Center promised me back in December 2019? Nonexistent, even a full year later.

The institutions and individuals responsible for this harm cannot claim to be unaware of the problem. This has been brought to your attention time and time again. If you support organizations that you know have silenced survivors, you are complicit at the very least. Even those who consider themselves allies of mine have failed to make good on their promises of support when I needed them most. Empty words of support mean nothing when those who express them simultaneously sing the praises of the campus institutions that have harmed me.

I am just one person. I cannot build a movement on my own. If we are to create change and seek justice for survivors, we must unite and fight back. Yet my every effort to do so has continually faced opposition and betrayal.

Those beautiful moments of solidarity and coalition-building that many other student organizing campaigns have been so fortunate to experience are foreign to me. I am incredibly proud of their work, and yet as I celebrate their power and strength, I am saddened to know that the Tufts student-activist community has deemed me unworthy of the same.

The inaction of both the community and the university continues to cause harm. I feel it in the dread that chills my body when I log into a virtual class, hoping to avoid hearing the hypocrisy of organizers who claim to fight for justice yet also befriend abusers.

It’s been two years since she laid hands on me in the tent city, but it still feels like today. Justice and healing are as out of reach as they were the morning after. I am doing my best, but it is an immense task to heal from trauma that is still ongoing.

When we received the news that campus would be shutting down, some part of me felt relief that I would no longer have to risk encountering abusers in my daily life at Tufts. The option to complete courses remotely this fall came as a great relief to me. I would be able to complete my final year at Tufts without ever setting foot on an unsafe campus. Yet the remote experience lacks many of the resources and opportunities offered to in-person students. I had no choice but to select a clearly inferior remote mode of learning due to Tufts’ refusal to prevent and address sexual violence.

I don’t know what to ask of this community anymore. My most basic requests have been rejected time and time again. From my place outside the Tufts community, I cannot determine how exactly Tufts should do better beyond what I have already asked for. Now, it is up to you to advocate for justice for survivors at Tufts.


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