September 28, 2011

Dear Members of the Tufts Community:

Tufts has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion across all our campuses and schools. So it is not surprising that recent public comments about transgender issues, by a psychiatrist who is an affiliate with our medical school, have generated significant attention and discussion within the university. An open forum on these issues last week revealed just how deeply those comments have hurt members of our community. We would like to put those comments into the context of our campus life, medical teaching, and academic values.

LGBT individuals have historically faced oppression and stigmatization within the broader society. While public attitudes and scientific understanding are both evolving, people whose sexuality and gender identity are seen as non-conforming still face very real challenges to full participation in civic life. These challenges are particularly great for transgender individuals. We are committed to an academic, co-curricular, and residential experience that gives trans people the opportunity to thrive at Tufts.

We will not permit discrimination or harassment within the university. This is not just a question of policy, or the law. We are personally and institutionally committed to a diverse and inclusive community. We sponsor a wide array of programs to support the personal growth of our LGBT students in particular, and we are proud that Tufts is regularly recognized as a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

Dr. Keith Ablow, whose comments in the media have sparked concern, is not an employee of either Tufts University or Tufts University School of Medicine, nor is he on the staff of Tufts Medical Center. He is one of more than 4,000 individuals who hold voluntary, unpaid appointments at the medical school. Over the years, Dr. Ablow has given occasional lectures in forensic psychiatry to residents, who have already received the M.D. degree, and has helped to organize a memorial forensic psychiatry lecture honoring a deceased resident colleague. He did not discuss gender identity or sexual expression in those lectures and he has not given any lectures for the past five years. He does not teach medical students.

Our medical students, in fact, receive extensive teaching on LGBT issues. Our curriculum in this area is consistent with the position of major medical organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as well as the American Psychological Association. The highly respected faculty who teach our medical students about sexuality and gender identity include Dr. Christopher Bellonci, who is nationally regarded as a leader in the psychiatric understanding of LGBT issues and has for years provided clinical support services for LGBT young people. Dr. Ablow is not involved in curriculum development or teaching for this or other medical school courses.

Dr. Ablow’s comments reflect his own personal views and should not be attributed to Tufts University or Tufts University School of Medicine. But as an institution of higher learning, Tufts supports the freedom to express and test ideas through vigorous debate and criticism. Such freedom is fundamental not only to academic institutions but to our society as a whole, and it is especially around speech we may not like that our commitment gets tested and proved. Dr. Ablow’s comments have challenged all of us to reflect on the complex relationships between commitments we hold passionately: to diversity and inclusion; to safety and nondiscrimination, to scientific veracity; and to academic freedom. This in no way diminishes the value we place on creating an educational environment that allows for the vigorous exchange of ideas while ensuring that no member of our community is subject to discrimination. And we will continue to work to ensure that transgender individuals are welcomed and supported across the university.

Sincerely,

Tony Monaco, Harris Berman, and Paul Summergrad

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