Tufts avoids accountability with OCR loophole

I have fought hard. The fight has been very long.

 

I put the money up for a domain name and hosting to create this site and blog. I dealt with the aftermath of rape and expulsion WITHOUT health insurance because I was no longer a student. I dealt with the aftermath of my student loans defaulting and having bad credit on top of all the bad effects of rape because I had no money to pay them and I was unable to defer them (ugh, private loans). I dealt with being unable to get a job as a survivor struggling with PTSD and then as a person with no college degree. I spent my newfound free time volunteering with an organization (SAFER) to help prevent others to go through what I did at Tufts University.

 

And yet, the poor girl seems to be losing again. I filed my complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in 2009. They first claimed that it wasn’t a matter of “right or wrong,” but rather timing. Then I was able to get that decision for them to not investigate overturned, I hit another roadbump.

 

Tufts is trying to avoid an investigation at all costs.

 

They want to do early resolution – with or WITHOUT my consent. This means if I don’t want to sit across the table from them and come to a mutual agreement…they can have the process taken COMPLETELY out of my hands and they can work with the government to resolve MY complaint.

 

This is way too familiar. The powerful institution tries to do what it can to avoid accountability with what they’ve done wrong to one individual. This has been a very emotional journey for me; one that I have done mostly alone with a small support system. BUT I see the power of CHOICE taken out of my hands right away.

 

Everyone is talking about Yale being investigated, which has prompted change already from their side. But no one is talking about Tufts. And they want to keep it that way. And frankly, I am PISSED.

 

I am pissed that the OCR allows the institution who is the subject of the complaint to get out of having an official ruling against them. I am pissed that Tufts just refuses to take accountability. I am pissed that after all this time, where the mere thought of this experience and the stress can reduce me to tears in a matter of seconds the institutions get their way AGAIN.

 

I think about what happened to be EVERY DAY. School administrators and their lawyers don’t seem to understand – their decisions impact lives. What they think, do, and say change lives forever. There needs to be change. There needs to be accountability instead of the cowardly moves of maintaining the best interest of an oppressive institution at the cost of one rape survivor.

If they didn’t think they did wrong, they wouldn’t be pushing for this to be done early before a finding.

Tufts University Not Doing Enough to Help Black Students

It is almost laughable that the day before a national holiday meant to commemorate one of the leaders of the civil rights movement for African Americans I find myself applying for food stamps and General Assistance. A year and a half after getting expelled, I see myself becoming increasingly closer to that statistic. A young, uneducated black person overwhelmed by debt and lack of employment who needs to depend on welfare just to meet basic needs. I think bitterly of Dean Glaser’s dismissive denial of appeal letter; he told me that I would be “better off” kicked out of the school and attending university at home. Instead, I’ve been a victim of more domestic violence, kicked out of a home, and with absolutely no money to be able to get the food or care I need. I’ve been traumatized and a survivor of violence and have not been able to get any treatment since getting kicked out. It is not very farfetched to say that I absolutely NOT better being kicked out.

I very much think that my current position in life is due to Tufts not caring or believing that I was raped. I think it is because they did not think my body was worth anything. I think it is because they did not take me seriously and did not want to help me or consider the consequences of their decisions. They had absolutely no concern about what happened to me or what could happen to me.

When I read a Racialicious blog post about Towson University eliminating the graduation gap between black, white, and latino students I learned about the existence of College Results Online. Apparently Education Trust, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on racial and ethnic achievement gaps, did a study about the graduation gaps at various four-year colleges throughout the country and wrote a brief noting how some schools are working hard to eliminate the disparity in graduation rates between blacks and whites.

Naturally, I wanted to see how Tufts measured up. The Tufts Daily recently wrote an article quoting administrators who boasted about their high graduation rates.

The success is a testament to the administration’s dedication to its students, according to Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler.

But is this “dedication” unevenly applied? During my time as a student (and even afterward!) I would see and hear stories of students of colour who struggle to be accommodated academically. I would often be confused when I would hear about their white classmates who seemed to have been able to pull the right resources (in even the most seemingly dire of circumstances) to have the administration to help them out and get the best results possible.

I already wrote about how I believe my race played a factor in Tufts mishandling my rape report. This led to a barrier for a student of colour to getting the degree they were seeking. If my race potentially played a role in getting kicked out then imagine how it affects other black students at Tufts of the past and present? The reason why I even created this blog to put my opinions and experience out there is for a reason – if schools pledged to take rape seriously – if Tufts pledged to sincerely take measures to end rape on its campus – it would be a big step forward in creating a better and more equitable future for people regardless of their sexual violence survivor status. Individuals should not be punished because of events that were out of their control.

While the national average is that black students graduate rate is about 20 points lower, 2008′s statistics show Tufts is above the national average. HOWEVER, Tufts consistently has a lower graduation rate for black students.

Tufts graduation rates 2007 by raceTufts 2008 graduation rates by race

When Tufts is compared to other similar schools in terms of graduation rates overall, it falls behind the curve. Tufts performs even more poorly when looking at the graduation rates for black students; the university clearly is greatly behind the curve. If I knew this, I know I would not have enrolled at the university.

Tufts vs other schools graduation rates

There is a real lack of concern for the needs of students of colour. In their places of privilege, the administration has been short-sighted in their decisions by arbitrarily providing help and accommodation for students when they are in need. The intersections of oppression can be very heavy. In my case, my class, race, gender, and survivor status have all worked together to put me in a position I never thought I’d see myself.

This is definitely not the dream Dr. King envisioned.

Quick Hit: Reitman Forgets Origins of 13-Year Old Award

In a Daily article that I mentioned in my previous post, Reitman boasted of an award given to Tufts University. Unfortunately it seems that he got a few things mixed up.

Reitman added that far from noncompliance, Tufts has been recognized for its adherence to the Clery Act. “The university, through the Department of Public Safety, has been a recipient of an award from the Clery Foundation for being a model in meeting the requirements of the [Jeanne] Clery Initiative,” he said. The Daily could not independently confirm the award, as the Clery Foundation does not have an online presence.

A quick Google search of “Tufts”  “award” and “Clery” shows that the University was given an award (in 1997 – when the policies were different, mind you) called the Jeanne Clery Campus Safety Award. However the award was not given by the Clery Foundation as Reitman claims. It was given by the very same organization that emailed him warning about Tufts current policies – Security On Campus. In fact, the TUPD front page had the award on its front page until recently – as the last Google cache from this Monday (12/13) shows us.

Tufts Safety Award

Not quite from the Clery Foundation

If you want to see a full page screenshot, click here.

More People Question Tufts' Sexual Assault Policy

The nonprofit organization Security On Campus recently reached out to Tufts University concerned with one key part of their sexual assault policy may be in violation with federal policy. Daniel Carter, who is their Director of Public Policy contacted the university.

The Tufts Daily says:

The nonprofit organization Security on Campus, Inc. (SOC) claims that a provision in the adjudication process that calls for the destruction of all case materials after the case has been resolved may conflict with certain provisions of a federal statute and could require reworking or revision. But Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman refuted the idea and said that Tufts’ current policies are compliant with federal regulations.

Reitman says that this decision was due to comply with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and maintain the privacy of the people involved.  I went to the Department of Education’s website to see what is required under FERPA. I did not see anything that mandated the immediate destruction of notes regarding the outcome of sexual assault adjudication.

In short, Wikipedia says:

The regulations provide that educational agencies and institutions that receive funding under a program administered by the U. S. Department of Education must provide students with access to their education records, an opportunity to seek to have the records amended, and some control over the disclosure of information from the records. With several exceptions, schools must have a student’s consent prior to the disclosure of education records.

I also went to the official FERPA section on the Department of Education’s website. It appears that FERPA is about protecting privacy of records so a school does not have to destroy them. Usually a student needs to give consent for records to be disclosed. There are exceptions, however.

A school MAY disclose education records without consent when:

  • The disclosure is to school officials who have been determined to have legitimate educational interests as set forth in the institution’s annual notification of rights to students;
  • The student is seeking or intending to enroll in another school;
  • The disclosure is to state or local educational authorities auditing or enforcing Federal or State supported education programs or enforcing Federal laws which relate to those programs;
  • The disclosure is to the parents of a student who is a dependent for income tax purposes;
  • The disclosure is in connection with determining eligibility, amounts, and terms for financial aid or enforcing the terms and conditions of financial aid;
  • The disclosure is pursuant to a lawfully issued court order or subpoena; or
  • The information disclosed has been appropriately designated as directory information by the school.

Okay, so what stands out to me is that without consent the records would have to be released for auditing or evaluations. Is this an attempt to get rid of the details between a student’s report and the potential sanctions placed on an individual? I think if there is any wrong doing there is a duty for the school to allow for as thorough investigation as possible and I am truly troubled that Tufts University is depending this practice. It seems that the cases where details would be divulged would require a student’s consent OR it would be to people or institutions that would be acting in the students (and the community’s) best interest. Upon Googling, I did not see any changes in FERPA that would initiate this change in the policy; I am confident that FERPA did not say ANYTHING about destroying records right after adjudication, either.

In addition to the records issue, Carter also pointed out that the confidentiality notice is wrong because “victims have an unconditional right to disclose the final outcome,” a statement with which I clearly agree. Unfortunately Dean Reitman is not on the same page. His defense is that it has been a long-term policy (I did not read that in the sexual assault policy when I was a student) and that others schools have that policy as well. In my opinion, saying that “everybody is doing it” is not a justification for one’s actions (or so my mother told me when I was five). The Center of Public Integrity published an investigative series about the epidemic of colleges that consistently retraumatize victims and make exceptions for rapists – does Tufts truly want to stay in the trend and remain in the ranks with perpetrators of campus crime coverups??

In fact, if you check out CPI’s  campus sexual assault series you can read how Carter himself was able to petition the Department of Education against schools like Tufts that insist on confidentiality clauses. In 2004, the Department ruled AGAINST Georgetown for the confidentiality rule and told them to cease it immediately.

In July 2004, the department agreed, issuing a ruling against Georgetown for its “impermissible non-disclosure agreement for Clery Act purposes.” It ruled that Clery grants alleged victims a right to their proceeding outcomes, without restrictions, despite FERPA. Its final determination letter, dated July 16, required Georgetown to “discontinue its use of non-disclosure agreements.”

In November 2008, the Department ruled against University of Virginia as well.

In November 2008, however, the Education Department determined the school had violated the Clery Act. In a letter to UVA President John Casteen, it stated “the University cannot require an accuser to agree to abide by its non-disclosure policy, in writing or otherwise.”

…The department’s UVA decision has made it clear that alleged student victims are no longer required to keep quiet about their hearing results. This year, in fact, the Education Department has amended its FERPA regulations to specify as much.

So I am shocked by Dean Reitman’s statements. In the Daily article he insists that the University changes policies as the federal laws change, but then staunchly defends the sexual assault confidentiality clause when it’s CLEARLY not in compliance. It seems like there is a long road ahead for those of us who want to see change on Tufts’ campus.

Human Rights Day 2010: Speak Up, Stop Discrimination

I had to write a quick entry recognizing how today, December 10, 2010, is Human Rights Day. What is it exactly? On the UN site it says:

Human Rights Day 2010 on 10 December recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.

Acting alone or in groups within their communities, every day human rights defenders work to end discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims.

While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.

Rape has been recognized as a form of discrimination by the US government itself – it is a horrible act of violence that affects survivors for years after the incident. I think it is important to remember that everyone has the simple human right to be treated with dignity. We should be believing and supporting survivors and continuing to campaign for effective policies that will be carried out my competent, knowledgeable people. We should be able to acknowledge when we’ve done wrong and admit it – even when we didn’t intend to hurt others.

So please visit the official Human Rights Day site and remember that violations of human rights don’t just happen in far off developing countries; they happen in this country, in your backyard, on your campus.

Quick Hit: OCR Settlements with Universities to Serve as 'Model'

Just learned that the Center for Public Integrity just published an article about the Office of Civil Rights’ settlements with two universities. These recent developments mean not only better policies for the two schools involved, but also nationwide:

Meanwhile, the OCR’s Ali says her office will be working to push for such big-picture reform when it rolls out a much-anticipated regulatory guidance in early 2011 regarding how colleges and universities should handle campus sexual assaults. And she says her office will continue its proactive “compliance reviews” of other institutions; last June, it opened a Title IX review into the policies and procedures at The Ohio State University, and is readying to initiate similar actions against three more universities in the next year.

This is really encouraging and exciting! It is such a relief to see the government finally taking things more seriously. If you go to CPI’s site you can also see the original documents with the Dept of Ed’s program.

I look forward to see how things progress in the new year.

Discrimination Complaints to Department of Education are Up

This is something that isn’t glaringly related to being a sexual assault survivor from Tufts University, but I caught a little blurb this week that caught my eye. At the San Francisco Examiner the article “Civil rights complaints to Department of Education increase as investigations intensify” shares how the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights received almost 7,000 complaints this fiscal year. This is a significant number because it is the largest increase of complaints in at least ten years (11% from last year)!

The inevitable question that arises is “why?” but all we can do is speculate. I have an inkling that it isn’t that more people are getting their rights violated, but more people are standing up for themselves and is seeking the help of the government. While I have heard so many jokes about how “so easy” it is to sue someone in the United States, the truth of the matter is that being a person of middle-to-low income severely hinders access to resources or possibilities such as suing your school for denying your rights. As a young person of colour, I have seen and heard too many times of someone knowing they were being discriminated against, but letting it slide. It is just often so much harder to fight than to just lick your wounds and move on. However, it seems that more people are seeking new avenues to try and achieve their paths to justice.

One alarming statistic that I saw was that, despite the 7,000 complaints made, the office is only performing 54 compliance reviews. Even considering that perhaps some are pending as the Office for Civil Rights decides whether to whether to open an investigation or not – that is just so few numbers. I know firsthand how hard it is to get the Office for Civil Rights to take you claim. For me, they started off CLEARLY not wanting to even consider reviewing my case. The first phone call I had with them was an attorney basically trying to tell me in every way possible that my rape was not a violation of Title IX. I had to get the help of multiple experts to get any movement from them; when they initially declined my claim (which came quite quickly) they conveniently left out the fact that I could appeal their decision. Luckily, I had Security On Campus let me know that it was possible to appeal this OCR decision. One thing that stuck out to me during one of a few phone calls with OCR is being told “It isn’t a matter of right or wrong,” but rather whether my complaint was strictly falling under their guidelines for what they can and will investigate.

While this article concentrates mostly on K-12 schools being investigated for systemic discrimination, they mention they found out about three universities are under investigation regarding their response to sexual violence. While I can guarantee there are more than just three schools in the entire country that should be under review for their response (or lack thereof), I think this can hopefully be taken as a sign that this could be the beginning of a new era. More victims will come forward and the government will not idly sit by as these people are denied justice. While the system is far from perfect (bureaucracy is not the most justice-friendly system) I hope that the increase of complaints and cases will help the Department of Education to do its part to decrease the pain of marginalized people and hold institutions accountable.

New Policy at Tufts: the Bad, the Worse, and the Ugly

When the new sexual assault policy was revealed for Tufts, I was excited to see the improvements the school had made. They had made a lot of mistakes and even though they never admitted as such, I sought the new policy as a mea culpa of sorts: by going forward with an efficient policy they could show going forward to a new era where rape victims are not fighting an impossible battle after being insulted.

My excitement quickly vanished.

I quickly whipped up a few thoughts that I wanted to share about the policy. While it’s nice that there is now a set, separate process for dealing with sexual assault, there are is a number of ALARMING protocol that is – simply put – a recipe for disaster. Check out the new policies at the Tufts student group’s site here.

So here are two things that threw up immediate RED FLAGS about the new process.

1) COMPLETE lack of oversight. Essentially, the decision rests COMPLETELY in the hands of the dean. This is definitely not a good way to guarantee justice. Clearly with my own experience I am biased and not confident in his ability to properly assess the seriousness of ALL sexual assault claims. However, there is a reason why juries exist. I think there is a necessary step to have more than one person – more than one point of view – to collaborate and really look at the findings. What is the point of having a Fact-Finder (this name is horrible, by the way…so if they don’t think they should punish the student then the rape isn’t a ‘fact’ ??) if the dean can just go completely against their findings? What if the dean has worked with the accused before and is inclined to be more lenient? What if he still believes rape myths? What if all the proper education and training in the world about sexual violence still makes the dean think someone who files a complaint of rape against an ex is ‘crazy?’

2) THEY DESTROY ALL RECORDS IMMEDIATELY. The policy states

After the case has been decided, and all appeals exhausted (see section on Appeals in the Student Judicial Process booklet), all materials created by or reviewed by the Dean and/or the fact-finder will be destroyed, unless the case or elements of the case are in litigation or moving toward litigation, in which case the materials will be preserved until the litigation is resolved.

Why are these being destroyed? Are all other cases’ record destroyed after everything is over? To file a complaint with the Department of Education for a Title IX complaint you have 180 days. To file a Clery Act complaint (which can be relevant in some cases) you have years. This act seems like an attempt to get rid of evidence that could show the school isn’t properly addressing sexual assault. If privacy is an issue, I am sure the university has the money to invest in placing these files in a place where they are there for at least the remainder of the time of both students’ time at Tufts.

Furthermore, what if a student wants to file a complaint against Tufts? It would be an awkward situation (and not a good decision) to notify the school beforehand because you don’t want them to destroy the files. That could create a very complicated situation. What if 30 days later the student gets the courage to take steps to filing a report? 90 days? Destroying all the evidence on the school’s part just seems like a very fishy decision that doesn’t seem to serve the best interest of all parties (students, university) involved.

There are a lot of other things glaringly missing from the policy, but I wanted to start with these. To see what a good sexual assault policy would have, check out SAFER’s page, “What Makes a Better Sexual Assault Policy?”. Read over the policy and decide yourself what Tufts University is lacking in protecting the rights of everyone involved and ensuring there is actually the possibility of justice.

Until next time

New Judicial Process Policy Revealed at Tufts University

This is the first year with a complete, new sexual assault policy. Personally, I think there is still a lot of things about it that alarm me (such as a SINGLE person deciding whether someone should be punished or not), but it is nice to see progress towards proper change.

Just wanted to share that the students of Tufts’ SAFER just had a victory! The complete new sexual assault policy has been made. You can check out their site here. It’s weird to think just two years ago I was being trained among some of these activists and they’ve done such a great job to create progress. I clearly have some personal investment since some of my friends and I helped jumpstart the movement for change. I wish I was able to support the students for longer, but they’re clearly doing a great job.

While it is great there is a new policy, I think this is a great example of how even though an administration may be willing to provide change there can always be improvement. It takes a long time to work towards a better sexual assault policy that students can feel like their rights are protected.

One thing I noticed that made me a bit uneasy is that they have a new confidentiality section.

Any information or written material related to a disciplinary case must be treated as confidential. Disclosure of such information to anyone other than the Dean or the fact-finder, legal counsel, support person or confidential counselor is strictly prohibited and may subject the person responsible for the disclosure to disciplinary action. Individuals with whom a student has shared disciplinary case materials are prohibited from disclosing them to others without the permission
of the Dean of Students or the Judicial Affairs Officer, and any disclosure by such individuals may subject the student who disclosed to them to disciplinary action.

A big part of the Center for Public Integrity’s investigative findings that schools have been big on gag orders. While they said that the outcome of the cause will/can be shared with the community, I can see the potential for this confidentiality clause to go wrong. What if the school handled the case improperly? It would be a huge conflict of interest to ask the Dean or Officer for permission to share how *they* messed up in address their rape and is showing the case information to another person, group, organization, etc. to see what those very people did wrong while doing their job.

However, it’s great to know that the SAFER group on campus are in touch with the administration about further improvements. The students have hit the ground running as soon as the semester has started to look over the policy and identify what they would like to see changed. I hope that progress towards the policy they need and deserve continues to go quickly!

Any information or written material related to a disciplinary case must be treated as confidential. Disclosure of such information to anyone other than the Dean or the fact-finder, legal counsel, support person or confidential counselor is strictly prohibited and may subject the person responsible for the disclosure to disciplinary action. Individuals with whom a student has shared disciplinary case materials are prohibited from disclosing them to others without the permissionof the Dean of Students or the Judicial Affairs Officer, and any disclosure by such individuals may subject the student who disclosed to them to disciplinary action.

source: Change Happens

Quick Hit: On Feminism, Liberals, Black Folks and Antione Dodson

I came across this post on Tumblr, which highlights a real-life example of intersectionality of oppressions for poor woman of colour survivors. Apparently there’s been a meme going around making fun of Antione Dodson, the brother of a  survivor of attempted raped who voice his (very justified) fury about his sister’s attack.

According to Dodson a rapist was targeting Lincoln Park because no one was doing anything about it. He said several young women and girls had been raped, and had either received no assistance or not asked for help because they knew the police were not going to do anything.

In late July, a rapist broke into their small home through a window and attempted to rape his sister. Dodson managed to scare the assailant and force him out of the apartment. He then called several of his friends in the area to look for the person because, like everyone else, he did not believe the police were going to do anything about an assault in low income housing. Later Dodson called both the Housing Authority Office that runs Lincoln Park and the Police. Hours went by before the police arrived and according to Dodson and others no major search was mounted by them. Also according to Dodson and others, the Housing Authority issued a statement but has made no improvements to security or safety in Lincoln Park to help protect them from being targeted. In fact, an attempted rape following a similar m.o. (rapist came through bedroom window, advanced on girl inside) occurred the following evening.

This story of systematic rape of young black women and girls left to fend for themselves because they are poor and the failure of the police or tax-payed for housing programs to protect them has been totally eclipsed by the spectacle made of Dodson. Dodson’s interview outlining the attempted rape of his sister and the sexual violence and rape other women and girls endured was put on youtube, not to highlight the problem but rather to highlight how “ghetto” Dodson was. While youtubers across the racial spectrum showed up to laugh, police failed to capture a rapist.

In fact, many people have counted the Dodson’s as lucky. The attention allowed Dodson to become an internet star and make enough money on interviews to get his family out of the projects. His sister will not be targeted by the Lincoln Park rapist again. But what about everybody else’s sister? And does moving out of low income housing on an unstable economic source negated the fear and trauma related to Dodson’s sister’s attempted rape for her and her mother, who witnessed the attack? To me it seems kind of like the politicians who say “in a way Katrina was a good thing” because of all the services and new construction people received. The idea is predicated on the assumption that black people’s, especially poor black people’s, are so worthless that if several of them are tortured, murdered, sexually assaulted, or traumatized, so that 1 or 2 of them can live better lives that is acceptable because those 1 or 2 were never meant to live better lives anyway.

Read the entire post.

I like this because I think that it does bring forward how society (even though it may not be conscious) just hold lesser value of black bodies. And they get away with not valuing them because many do not have the power, connections, or money to fight/speak out. Our voices are rarely heard. We rarely get the chance to raise our voices.