Sexual Misconduct Report Details Progress and Goals

Tufts will continue to examine its procedures and create additional programs to ensure a safe and welcoming environment
aerial view of Tufts' Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses
An important component of the recent changes is that the focus is not just on investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, but on widespread education and awareness. Photo: Alonso Nichols
October 18, 2016

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For three years, a task force of students, staff and faculty chaired by Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco has examined how the university handles sexual misconduct. In its final report, the group details a range of measures that have been taken to increase resources, strengthen training and education, and prevent such incidents from occurring.

This semester, as a standing committee takes over the work of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force, Tufts will continue to examine its procedures for responding to reports of sexual misconduct and create additional programs to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, Monaco says.

“The completion of the task force report in no way means that our work on this important issue is done,” says Monaco, who chairs the new Sexual Misconduct Prevention Steering Committee. “Preventing sexual misconduct remains a top priority, and I am committed to taking whatever measures are necessary to achieve that goal.”

The president established the task force in 2013, and its final report [PDF] was issued at the end of the spring 2016 semester.

“The task force report demonstrates the excellent and thorough work the Tufts community has done toward eliminating sexual misconduct,” says Jill Zellmer, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX coordinator. “We have built awareness on all three of our campuses around these issues, and that momentum is carrying us forward.”

The task force report outlines the progress that has been made to prevent sexual misconduct, including:

—Regular opportunities for discussion with university leaders about issues related to sexual misconduct.

—Revisions to Tufts’ Sexual Misconduct Policy and Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process to align them with new guidance from the federal Office for Civil Rights and the federal Violence Against Women Act.

—New disciplinary guidelines for violations of the Sexual Misconduct Policy.

—In response to student requests, the creation of two new positions, a Sexual Misconduct Resource Specialist and a Sexual Misconduct Prevention Specialist. Students can talk confidentially with these specialists, and often students prefer that these issues be resolved at that point. “We’ve been able to address a lot of reports much more informally, to the satisfaction of many more students,” Zellmer says.

—The creation of a Center for Awareness, Resources and Education related to sexual misconduct issues.

—Mandatory training programs provided by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) for all students, staff and faculty.

—The first university-wide survey of students about sexual conduct and misconduct, the Tufts Attitudes on Sexual Conduct Survey.

—A more comprehensive OEO website.

—Increased efforts to encourage the community to report all allegations of discrimination and harassment.

Much of the progress on these issues was driven by students. “This is the community that the students are living in and studying in—they are experiencing things that faculty and staff don’t,” Zellmer says. “We’ve changed our policies to better reflect their experiences.”

Education and Awareness

An important component of the recent changes is that the focus is not just on investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, but on widespread education and awareness.

“We are encouraging people to report. We are trying to reduce the stigma of reporting,” Zellmer says. “We are making sure people have different avenues through which to report—deans, resident assistants or electronically.”

The work will continue, she says. Future efforts will include:

—Examining trends in sexual misconduct cases and amending university policies as needed. For example, after she started her job in 2011, Zellmer noticed an increase in reports related to the taking and sharing of photos and videos without consent. So a new category was added to the Sexual Misconduct Policy, requiring consent to photograph someone in a state of undress and requiring consent to share such images.

—Implementing Green Dot, a national violence prevention program used at many colleges to promote safe spaces and bystander intervention.

—Continuing to administer the Tufts Attitudes on Sexual Conduct Survey and seeking student input on new questions to include. The second annual survey will be distributed in January 2017.

—Developing ways to expand prevention efforts at the graduate schools, where students are at a different stage of life and career than undergraduates.

“The task force report is a road map for eliminating sexual misconduct at Tufts,” Zellmer says. “Tufts is fortunate to have in President Monaco a strong and unwavering leader on these issues who is deeply committed to this goal.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu

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