Tufts University – March 2015–November 2016

Medford, MA

Administrators at Tufts University enacted a new Sexual Misconduct Policy in March 2015 that included broad restrictions on any speech that could be construed as sexual harassment. The types of speech that the policy labeled as “unwanted conduct” included innuendo, use of pet names, and failing to address someone by a preferred gender pronoun. In November 2016, the Tufts Community Union Senate voted unanimously to reject a resolution demanding a change in the policy to exclude overly vague and nonspecific speech restrictions. Students Advocating for Students, a group concerned about civil liberties issues on campus, had originally presented the resolution to the Senate.

Key Players

The Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) at Tufts University, led by Executive Director Jill Zellmer, enacted the new Sexual Misconduct Policy in March 2015.

The Tufts-based group “Students Advocating for Students” (SAS), led by President Jake Goldberg, a member of the Class of 2019, drafted a resolution to change language in the Sexual Misconduct Policy in order to eliminate eight prohibitions that it deemed to be “free speech violations.”

The Tufts Community Union Senate, a student legislative body, voted unanimously to reject the SAS’s resolution and preserve the Sexual Misconduct Policy as it stood.

Further Details

In March 2015, the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) at Tufts University revised the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, a document that outlines prohibited conduct ranging from classroom and workplace harassment to sexual assault. The policy was designed to correspond with state and federal laws, and was reviewed by a separate Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force prior to its implementation. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights also conditionally approved the policy, Zellmer told The Tufts Daily.

In November 2016, SAS drafted a resolution labeling eight specific portions of the Sexual Misconduct Policy as “free speech violations.” These “violations” included “the prohibition of inappropriate communications via letters, telephone calls, emails, or texts; sexual jokes or describing of sexual conduct; comments on an individual’s body or appearance; comments about sexual activity or experiences; innuendos of a sexual nature; use of nicknames or terms of endearment; sexist statements or behavior; taunting slurs or other verbal conduct against those who are perceived to be failing to conform to expected notions of masculinity or femininity.”

In addition to the eight violations that SAS alleged were present in the Sexual Misconduct Policy, the resolution called for changes to other university documents that contained supposed Free Speech restrictions, including the Student Code of Conduct and the guide to on-campus living.

Jake Goldberg, SAS president, told The Tufts Daily that the administration had implemented “policies that are way too vague for [him] to actually know what [he] can and cannot say.” He also stated that he would prefer the University adhere to the outline set by the 1999 Supreme Court case Monroe v. Davis, which states that Title IX violations must be severe enough to undermine an alleged victim’s educational experience.

On November 20, 2016, the Tufts Community Union Senate voted 26-0 to reject the resolution presented by SAS. According to The Tufts Daily, multiple student senators spoke at the meeting to condemn the resolution, arguing that changing language in the Sexual Misconduct Policy would make it more difficult to discipline perpetrators of sexual harassment and to protect Tufts University students and faculty from sexual misconduct.

The Tufts Community Union Senate does not have the authority to change the official University policy, but it can strongly recommend to administrators that certain things be altered or refined. Zellmer, the OEO executive director, told the Tufts Daily that the university would likely not have had the legal leeway to change the policy had the resolution passed.

Outcome

Sexual Misconduct Policy remains unchanged

The Tufts Community Union Senate rejected the resolution calling for a change to the Sexual Misconduct Policy, and the policy remained in force unaltered. SAS promised to continue pursuing its mission to defend students’ civil liberties.

External References:

TCU Senate votes down resolution by Students Advocating for Students, Tufts Daily

Tufts University Sexual Misconduct Policy

Senate Resolution, Drafted by Students Advocating for Students

Prepared by Jack Lynch ‘18

August 22, 2017