The human cost of college administrations' negligence and ineptitude when it comes to handling rape allegations is monstrously high. In far too many cases, the victim, denied a fair hearing process, drops out while his or her assailant graduates unscathed. This is something we should keep in mind even as activists, administrations and lawmakers endeavor to find a future solution: countless students, poorly served under the old and extant policies, are still struggling in the aftermath of institutional neglect.
As a poignant reminder of this, Tufts students have nominated Wagatwe Wanjuki for an honorary Tufts degree. Wanjuki was expelled from Tufts after being sexually assaulted in 2008 — years before the issue of campus rape received widespread media attention. At the time, Tufts refused to investigate her claim; faced with such callous indifference and denied proper accommodations, her academic performance suffered (a common occurrence among sexual assault survivors). Even though she was never on academic probation and her GPA was high enough for her to graduate, she was told in 2009 that she must withdraw from the university due to academic concerns. Her assailant, of course, graduated just fine.
Wanjuki has gone on on to become one of the most prominent voices in campus rape activism. She contributes to Feministing, she's involved with Know Your IX and ED Act Now, and she's appeared on Democracy Now!, MSNBC and the Daily Show. Recently, she started the hugely-trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege and ignited a national conversation about the way we treat sexual assault survivors. This year, she will graduate six years behind schedule with a degree in sociology from Rutgers.
In an op-ed, four Tufts students argue that Wanjuki should be presented an honorary degree with the class of 2015 because her "career represents the best of Tufts — she took a horrible experience and turned it into substantive, societal change." Not only should Tufts recognize and reward this, they say, but the school should also use the opportunity to "right the wrong from 2009."
"This is a chance to show Tufts is an institution that recognizes its flaws and is contrite for its past actions," Tufts senior John Kelly told Tufts Daily. Taylor Strelevitz, another senior, agrees that it could provide Tufts an opportunity to show that it's changed: "With almost all cases of campus sexual assault, and then especially Wagatwe's, there was a lot of silencing — 'if we just get her off campus, if we get these people off campus, if we stop talking about it, we don't have to report it,'" he said. "If they refused to give her the degree, it would just be another example of that."
Kelly has launched a Change.org petition urging the school to award Wanjuki an honorary degree. So far, it's garnered over 1,000 signatures. Tufts has yet to comment.
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