After Tufts Found to Violate Title IX, How Student Rape Survivors Are Leading Movement for Reform
Wagatwe Wanjuki filed a complaint at Tufts University in 2008 after two years of rape and abuse by an ex-partner who was also a Tufts student, but the university did not take action, and later expelled her. This week, the U.S. Department of Education found Tufts to be in violation of the federal Title IX law, saying the school has mishandled complaints of sexual assault and harassment. Now an organizer with the "Know Your IX" campaign and a contributor at the blog Feministing, Wanjuki stood with Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday as he unveiled the administration’s new guidelines for handling sexual assault cases in schools. We also speak with Lena Sclove, a Brown University student who is speaking out about her sexual assault and campus policies.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are two women who reported that they were raped to their universities, and we’re talking about their response. Lena Sclove is currently on medical leave from Brown University, where she reported she was raped and strangled by a fellow student in August of 2013. The student she accused received what amounted to a one-semester suspension but has since decided not to return to Brown following nationwide uproar over the case. Lena Sclove actually had a news conference on campus when she was dissatisfied about Brown University’s response. We’re also joined by Wagatwe Wanjuki, organizer with the Know Your IX campaign, a contributor at Feministing. She filed a complaint at Tufts University in 2008 after two years of rape and abuse by an ex-partner who was also a Tufts student.
Can you explain, Wagatwe, what happened to you?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: Sure. So I was in a relationship with a student on campus, and after enduring two years of abuse and multiple instances of sexual assault, I realized that what was happening was wrong, and I really wanted to have some consequences for what happened to me. So what I did was that I filed a complaint with Tufts University. It took a couple months—I was meeting with deans and with judicial affairs officer and—just to talk about the process. So I finally handed in my complaint, and they said that they weren’t going to go forward with anything. So I explained two years’ worth of what had happened to me, and they decided that I couldn’t use the Tufts system to get any form of justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: They said that some things were outside this one-year statute of limitations. However, they had an exception where they thought that they will allow students to file a complaint if they believe that the student is a threat to the larger campus. We all know that most rapists are repeat offenders. So if you are able to commit rape and physical abuse, you’re clearly a threat to students. However, despite giving me an extension verbally, they decided not to do it when I actually filed the complaint.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you find out that they would not move forward on your case?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: I waited, and I waited. And the semester ended, and I realized, I guess, they weren’t going to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did this affect you at Tufts?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: My—it affected me in so many ways. An abusive relationship is already so very isolating, so I had lost many friends. And then I was on leave, so a lot of my friends graduated. And then, coming back to a school where the administration didn’t care about what happened to me was very hard, and my academic performance declined.
AMY GOODMAN: And so?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: So, I met another student in a class. She actually had a similar experience. She actually was able to go through the adjudication process, and they found—it was a very terrible experience, and they ended up not punishing her assailant. So we started a movement to change Tufts’ sexual assault policy. It was only two sentences and a list of phone numbers at the time, essentially saying, "We think rape is bad. We will help you. Call these numbers if you’re raped." Not comprehensive whatsoever. So, when we started speaking up and I started speaking up about my own experience, they actually ended up expelling me.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean speaking about your own experience? What did you say?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: I talked about how the administration did nothing to address my rape. They didn’t support me in any way, shape or form. They refused to accommodate me academically. They refused to give any justice. They refused to acknowledge that I endured violence at the hands of another student. And they refused to acknowledge that they were more comfortable with letting a rapist graduate with a degree from their institution than to help me.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to recent developments at Tufts University. On Monday, the Department of Education—that’s the federal department, the U.S. Department of Education—said it, quote, "may move to initiate proceedings to terminate federal funding" to the school for failing to comply with Title IX. That’s the law that requires schools to "respond promptly and effectively" to sexual violence and harassment. The DOE found Tufts failed to employ a Title IX coordinator for two academic years and, quote, "allowed for the continuation of a hostile environment" for a student who identified as a survivor. Tufts signed an agreement April 17 to address the compliance issues with dozens of changes, but about a week later Tufts backed out of the agreement after the DOE said Tufts’ current policies were violating Title IX. The university responded in a statement that, quote, "We believe the department’s recently announced finding has no basis in law and we have requested to speak with OCR’s Washington Office to discuss this unexpected and troubling announcement." Wagatwe Wanjuki, can you respond to this, that Tufts is in violation of Title IX?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: This is something that survivors have known for a long time on this campus, and it shows how out of touch the administration is. I think they’ve been able to get away with it for so long, they think it can continue. But we have new people at the Department of Education, and it’s not going to continue any longer. I actually know a current survivor and student at Tufts, and the same people who mishandled my case, they also mishandled his. So, there’s a systemic problem of failing to support survivors at Tufts University.
AMY GOODMAN: You were ultimately expelled from Tufts?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: Yes. I—my academic performance was not great, because I was at a school that did not care that I was raped, and I was—I was recovering from the trauma. And they decided to expel me, even though my GPA was still high enough for me to graduate. I had a year left. And when I appealed the decision, the person deciding my case was actually the academic adviser of my assailant. So it’s needless to say that he denied my appeal. They said—I cited Title IX in my appeal, and they said, "Well, we looked up at the law, and we made sure we have no obligation to help you. Good luck at home."
AMY GOODMAN: How did it feel to be one of those people who was standing with Vice President Joe Biden this week, announcing—he was talking about what the White House is recommending for colleges to do?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: It was an amazing experience to be so alone at Tufts and feel like no one is supporting me, to having the administration acknowledge a very serious issue, something that’s very near and dear to me, as something that all colleges need to address. So I’m really fortunate for the opportunity and really fortunate that we’ve been able to meet with senior staff who met with Know Your IX and took our concerns very seriously.
AMY GOODMAN: Know Your IX is?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: Know Your IX is an organization made to educate students about their rights under Title IX. I am specifically a part of the ED ACT NOW campaign. And we launched last summer. We had a rally in front of the Department of Education. We also had a petition asking for better enforcement of Title IX, because knowing about your rights under Title IX is useless unless it’s enforced properly. And we had a petition. We have about 170,000 signatures for it right now. So, it just shows that students are willing to fight back, and the administration is listening, even if specific school administrators are not.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2010, the Center for Public Integrity published an award-winning investigationabout sexual assault on college campuses. They examined a federal database on sexual assault proceedings and concluded, quote, "colleges seldom expel men who are found 'responsible' for sexual assault; indeed, these schools permanently kicked out only 10 to 25 percent of such students. Just more than half the 33 students interviewed by the Center said their alleged assailants were found responsible for sexual assault in school-run proceedings. But only four of those student victims said the findings led to expulsion of their alleged attackers—two of them after repeat sexual offenses." Lena Sclove, I wanted to get your response to that. And also, you released at your news conference—and maybe we can go to a clip of this—a letter from another student who had alleged they were assaulted by the same student.
LENA SCLOVE: Well, to answer your first question about the comment that was just read, let’s see, I just—I guess it’s—sorry, I—it’s just hard for me to even think about it, because—could you just ask me a direct question about it? Just because it’s so—it’s so overwhelming, about the whole—the whole quote, sort of.
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, well, I want to go back to your news conference.
LENA SCLOVE: OK, OK.
AMY GOODMAN: And then we’ll go back to the Center for Public Integrity.
LENA SCLOVE: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go back to the news conference that you had on April 22nd.
LENA SCLOVE: I had another letter submitted from another student who had been assaulted by this same person. It was initially accepted. When the rapist saw that it was accepted, he objected to it, and the university removed it from the hearing materials. So the university has on file another letter that this person has assaulted another woman on this campus, but does not acknowledge it in their decision-making process because the rapist objected to the letter being included.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could talk about this, the statistic: Nine out of 10 assaults are committed by repeat rapists?
LENA SCLOVE: Right. Well, and that even goes up when choking or strangling is attached. Many studies have shown that that makes the statistic of repeating even higher. I’m glad to have shown that clip; however, the other student has made it very clear to me they do not actually want me to discuss that situation in more detail, and out of respect and protection of her anonymity, I don’t feel I can speak more to that. I feel like that sort of sums it up. What I will say is that Brown really and many schools need to examine the policy, because, as of now, a student cannot add an additional letter to a single case. They—if there’s another survivor of the same perpetrator, they have to file their own complaint and go through their own hearing process, which many people are unable or do not want to or do not feel safe doing. So that’s a big policy problem. I apologize I can’t speak more to that, but it’s out of respect for this other survivor.
AMY GOODMAN: Wagatwe, you wrote a piece for Feministing called "Stop Telling Survivors They Must Report to Police." Why?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: We need to be respectful of survivors’ choices. I really believe that we need to trust them to know what is best for them to recover and for them to heal and for them to find their own sense of justice. We need to be mindful that survivors of all identities have different relationships with the police and with the courts. And I personally, I know, as a woman of color, I do not feel comfortable turning to the police. And I think this is why empowering colleges to actually have—to enforce, you know, sexual misconduct policies is so important. A lot of students, just like Lena did, she did not go to the police and—
AMY GOODMAN: Originally, [inaudible].
WAGATWE WANJUKI: Originally. She originally did not go to the police. And students should still have another venue to go through for—to get a sense of justice. The criminal justice system or prison-industrial complex only holds 3 percent of all rapists accountable. Should we be forcing survivors or shaming them for refusing to go through a process that will often result in zero justice? I don’t think that is fair, and it’s really unfortunate that we continue to put pressure on survivors after—before and after their assault.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you optimistic things will change?
WAGATWE WANJUKI: Things are changing. I was assaulted—I mean, I was kicked out in 2009, and just so many things have changed since then, and just having the administration acknowledge that this is an issue. One of the biggest problems with sexual violence is that a lot of people don’t talk about it, but now it’s a national conversation. So I believe we’re going to have a lot of progress.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank both of you for being here. You are very brave to speak out, Wagatwe Wanjuki and Lena Sclove.
This is Democracy Now! And that does it for our show. If you’d like a copy, go to our website at democracynow.org. I’ll be speaking at Dartmouth College on May 2nd, Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. at Moore Hall. Go to our website at democracynow.org.