I am writing to update you about one of my highest priorities as president—the prevention and elimination of sexual misconduct from Tufts’ campuses. I take sexual misconduct seriously and am committed to making the university a leader on this issue.
No member of our community should fear for their safety or lose educational opportunities as a result of the impact of a sexual assault. We have worked hard in recent years to improve how we respond to complaints of sexual misconduct, investigate them, and impose appropriate penalties while respecting the rights of all parties. I regret if we have not always met the needs of our community. We must commit to doing better, now and in the future.
Over the past few years, Tufts University has been involved in discussions with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education over the handling of a 2010 sexual misconduct case. We have cooperated fully with OCR during the four-year investigation. Only after we had signed a voluntary resolution agreement of this matter did OCR inform us that they believe the University’s current policies are out of compliance with Title IX. We strongly disagree with this finding and, regretfully, decided to withdraw from the voluntary agreement. We are disappointed with the department’s course of action and remain committed to resolving this disagreement. We have issued a public statement regarding our negotiations with OCR, which can be found at: http://oeo.tufts.edu/sexualmisconduct/tufts-reaffirms-commitment-to-title-ix-compliance/.
Tufts has already made extensive efforts in responding to sexual misconduct cases in a comprehensive and decisive manner. Our expanded and restructured Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) is now highly regarded among our peers in higher education. OEO has updated and strengthened our sexual misconduct policies and procedures to ensure proper handling of cases. OEO hires investigators who are dedicated to an impartial, respectful, and confidential process. OEO has also built an anonymous reporting tool for bystanders and victims/survivors to report sexual misconduct. This Ethicspoint system provides an important reporting tool and helps us monitor campus climate.
OEO works alongside Health & Wellness Services’ staff of highly trained mental health counselors and medical clinicians skilled in trauma response and treatment, as well as clinicians trained on sexual assault treatment and response. OEO also collaborates with Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) and its officers trained in sexual assault response to provide support to victims/survivors. Together, these departments provide many of the resources essential to support victims/survivors of sexual misconduct.
It is the victims/survivors who best understand the toll that sexual misconduct has on their educational experiences. We must listen to them and support them in raising their voices. We must create an environment where our students, faculty, and staff feel supported in reporting offenses, knowing that we will investigate fully and hold individuals accountable.
To ensure we achieve this goal, I am personally chairing a Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force that I convened last fall, comprised of students, faculty, and staff from across all the Tufts campuses. Members of the Task Force are thoroughly reviewing our own policies and procedures as well as best practices elsewhere to develop recommendations on how we can improve our current programs and enhance our resources to provide a comprehensive response to those who have been impacted by sexual misconduct. We owe the members of the Task Force our gratitude for their extraordinary commitment to protect, educate, and train the Tufts community.
The Task Force has already made a series of recommendations to improve programming and education. We are undertaking an extensive training and education initiative so that every member of our community will know how to respond upon learning of sexual misconduct. We have also implemented online training on bystander intervention to increase awareness of sexual misconduct; it will be mandatory for all undergraduate students starting this fall, and all incoming professional and graduate students will be offered training as part of orientation.
Another Task Force recommendation is to hire a Sexual Misconduct Prevention Specialist to coordinate services and education for our students. This individual will provide our students with a highly visible resource for critical information about services and education. We have posted that position with the goal of having an experienced professional in place by this fall.
We also launched a new website bringing together in one place important information about sexual misconduct prevention, education, and response at Tufts. The new website can be found at: http://oeo.tufts.edu/sexualmisconduct/. We will continue to post new information on that site and welcome your thoughts on how it can be improved.
A report on the progress that has been made by the Task Force can be found at: http://oeo.tufts.edu/sexualmisconduct/files/SexMis-Interim-Progress-Report-final-4-18-14.pdf. I invite all of you to support us in this important work. We must continue to build a culture of respect, responsibility, and consent, and do everything in our power to protect all members of our community. None of our students, faculty, or staff should suffer the humiliation and violation of sexual misconduct.
I give you my personal pledge that we will continue to take these issues very seriously. We will learn from the lessons of our past and do better in the future. Sexual misconduct has absolutely no place at Tufts University, and I ask you to join me in our collective effort to eliminate it from our community.