Opinion sexual assault at mit

How the Institute can do better

The community can do more to prevent sexual assault

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: A previous version of this piece listed Cory Hernandez as the former UA treasurer. Hernandez is in fact the current UA treasurer. We regret the error.

Editor’s note: This article, which is part two of a two-part series, contains explicit references to sexual assault. Part one was published on Feb. 7.

Where MIT’s response falls short

Responding to calls for greater action to curb sexual assault on university campuses, President Obama recently reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to support survivors and fight against sexual assault. Under the current administration, the federal government has expanded the definition of rape to include rapes of men. In addition, Congress and President Obama renewed the Violence Against Women Act and broadened its scope to include LGBT, Native American, and immigrant victims. And just this month, President Obama created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The Boston Globe article mentioned in the first part of this series reported that reports of sexual assault were on the rise at Boston-area schools. But this potentially alarming statistic also suggest that students are feeling more supported and aware of how to make reports at their schools, that better victim advocates and reporting mechanisms are on the rise, and schools are beginning to keep better records of assault report statistics.

These successes on a national level serve as an example for what we must do as a community. We call on the students, faculty, staff, and administrators of MIT to do more. Just one instance of sexual assault or rape is too many. Yet MIT’s efforts to curb sexual assault sometimes fall short.

Specifically, when charges are brought, MIT’s disciplinary actions for those who commit sexual assault or rape do not always lead to expulsion. Many offenders are merely suspended or given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again, whereas they ought to be expelled. As a result, some victims allege that MIT values protecting its public image over protecting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. This is especially important because 63% of college men who rape will do so again, according to a report released by the White House Council on Women and Girls.

We suggest that MIT students be required to attend a training session provided by MIT Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) on sexual assault and rape prevention and response every year, not just during Orientation. In fact, the training received by freshmen is rather limited in scope. First, the video that students are required to watch over summer is laughably unengaging — some simply let it play and go do something else. The on-campus Sex Signals production has been known to be triggering, offensive, and lacking an effective debriefing for the scenarios of sexual assault portrayed by the actors. Furthermore, Sex Signals does not fully incorporate male and non-gender binary assault survivors, nor the LGBTQAI community. Perhaps viable alternatives to the existing orientation trainings include Speak About It, the production that recently replaced Sex Signals at Harvard, or a version similar to Tech Theater.

Whatever the new training module chosen, we call on the administrators to adopt a more effective program and to start a community-wide conversation about what is the best option for freshmen as well as graduate orientation. Fortunately, discussions have already begun on such alternatives.

Before Orientation however, many incoming students participate in freshman pre-orientation programs (FPOPs). The Freshman Leadership Program (FLP) is one example in which some of this article’s authors participated. One activity used by FLP — among other FPOPs — is based upon gender. After discussing male and female gender stereotypes, the activity asks participants to divulge personal information about their experiences relating to gender, including those regarding sexual assault. In particular, one author of this article was triggered to a great extent by much of the activity, including many of the stories others were disclosing. We ask that the Student Activities Office, which sponsors FLP, and the program coordinators and counselors extensively revamp this activity to ensure that potentially triggering statements can be avoided.

The Graduate Student Orientation, while generally comprehensive in the breadth of information conveyed compared to other graduate institutions, also fails to include a training on harassment and assault. We note that the Women’s Welcome organized by students of Graduate Women @ MIT (GWAMIT), does highlight resource staff and information from VPR, but this event is attended by 300 graduate women and not provided for the whole community. A series of workshops called “Positivity@MIT” were organized in Fall 2012 by GWAMIT, and are the closest events to graduate community-wide harassment training.

What the Institute has done well

We have written this article out of a sincere affinity and love for MIT and a desire to make our community a safer and more welcoming space. At the time of this publication, the recently-passed federal “Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act” will be going into effect. This legislation builds upon Title IX and the Clery Act to explicitly mandate universities to not only develop disciplinary actions for perpetrators of sexual harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking, but also for universities to take active measures of prevention — to ensure harassment-free environments for all students. MIT must take preventative measures to reduce sexual harassment, sexual violence, and rape culture on campus.

We would also like to acknowledge the work that has been done in recent months, by students as well as staff, to educate the community on sexual assault.

We would be remiss to not mention the incredible work of the MIT Office of Violence Prevention and Response (VPR), staffed by merely three dedicated victim advocates. VPR provides resources for survivors of sexual violence, sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking, and counsels on tools for maintaining healthy relationships. If you need resources, advice, or any support, we encourage you to call VPR’s 24-hour hotline: 617-253-2300.

In addition, VPR and many students, faculty, and staff collaborate on the annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month series of events every April, including the campus version of the national “Take Back the Night” movement.

Every year, the student organization Stop Our Silence produces The Vagina Monologues, a national movement and drama production about survivors of sexual assault and violence. Consider inviting your friends and community members to watch The Vagina Monologues with you in February.

In Fall 2012, a new student organization called SAFER² (Students Advocating For Education on Respectful Relationships) was created with the goal of reducing sexual violence and advocating for healthy relationships through peer educational workshops in dorms and living groups. Consider inviting SAFER² to your dorm, fraternity, sorority, or living group.

In addition, on Feb. 28, SAFER² will be hosting a “One Night Stand for Student Rights,” a summit to address issues of sexual violence on campus, featuring award-winning spoken word artist Staceyann Chin, who will speak to issues of sexual assault, campus culture, queer and multiracial identity.

In Spring 2013, two students, Chacha Durazo and Nancy Ouyang, produced a documentary called “Project dx/dt” featuring interviews of MIT students identifying as survivors of sexual assault and sharing their survivor testimonials. Consider watching and discussing this documentary of MIT survivors with your community and living group.

MIT recently hired a Title IX Investigator, Sarah Rankin, formerly the Director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Harvard University. We urge you to consider joining the Title IX Working Group if you are interested in issues of policy, especially with regards to the federal Clery Act and Campus SaVE Act, as well as MIT policies. Students, faculty, and staff can also participate in VPR’s #Consent Campaign and in the MIT launch of the national “Speak Up” Campaign led by Prof. Ed Bertschinger, the new Institute Community and Equity Officer.

These are just some of the tools for dismantling rape culture at MIT. But we can do more.

We ask for the community to help offer ways to fight against beliefs and behaviors of rape culture. We suggest up-to-date, comprehensive, and mandatory anti-harassment and anti-violence training for the community, especially undergraduate and graduate student leaders, housemasters, RAs, and GRTs. While many of these groups receive some training already, we believe that some of it is rather inadequate. We strongly advocate reforms to the orientation programming for incoming undergraduates and graduate students, and the ending of using student funds to fund student publications that are a part of the rape culture on campus. We deeply appreciate the work of VPR but recognize that the office is overstretched and understaffed for a university community of our size.

In general, there are many examples of the manifestations of rape culture across MIT, whether it be on a social media site, at a social event, or during an activity. And the first step toward preventing and dismantling the rape culture that pervades our Institute is to be able to recognize its existence. While we have shown a few examples in this article, we encourage you to think about other areas of MIT that exemplify this culture.

In reaction to this article, we anticipate denial — but we can also hope for affirmation, solidarity, and positive and progressive action. Part of this hope stems from the positive and supportive reactions to The Tech article on Jan. 29, 2014, in which a brave individual shared her story of surviving a sexual assault at MIT. Indeed, the author specifically mentioned that MIT police were very supportive compared to the Assistant District Attorney. MIT’s reaction to the incident shows the potential we have as a community to dismantle rape culture.

Cory Hernandez is a member of the Class of 2014, an undergraduate Member-at-Large of the ASA, as well as UA treasurer and Finboard Vice-Chair. Mitali Thakor is a graduate student in the department of Science, Technology, and Society, Charlie Andrews-Jubelt is a member of the Class of 2017, and Chacha Durazo is a member of the Class of 2014.

one of the authors about 4 years ago

for some reason, the tech changed the article last minute, without the consent of the authors and without telling the authors.

one major change they made was to the paragraph on flp. here is the original:

"Before Orientation, though, many incoming students participate in freshman pre-orientation programs (FPOPs). The Freshman Leadership Program (FLP) is one example in which some of this articles authors participated. One activity that occurs at FLP--and used to or does occur during other FPOPs--is based around gender. After discussing some stereotypes around male and female genders, the activity asks participants to divulge personal information about their experiences relating to gender, including those around sexual assault. Thereafter, the activity devolves into a pseudo-therapeutic mess of people sharing deep truths about themselves and their histories--from parental abuse to suicide, from stalking to sexual assault. While this time is allegedly cathartic for many individuals, this benefit for them comes at a cost for others. In particular, one author of this article was triggered to a great extent by much of the activity, including many of the stories others were disclosing. At that moment, this person sought out some assistance, but only got a cold, unsympathetic FLP counselors shoulder to cry on. We ask that the Student Activities Office, which sponsors FLP, and the program coordinators and counselors extensively revamp this activity to ensure that potentially triggering statements can be avoided."

Anonymous about 4 years ago

Rape ought to be a matter for government authorities. If a real crime has occurred, call the police and let them deal with it. If a bogus "rape" is claimed (two drunk students hook up - one of them regrets it the next day), then no government prosecutor will touch it (and rightly so - all that stuff in the criminal law about burdens of proof, reasonable doubt, etc. is there to prevent innocent people from being falsely convicted). No one objects to a on-campus kangaroo court system as long as it is limited to slaps on the wrist, but if they really start to ruin people's lives by expelling them for drunken hookups (as recommended by the authors), you can be sure there will be a backlash and lots of lawyers suing the Institute.

The authors admit that no one pays any attention to the current "rape prevention" videos, so their solution is even MORE re-education. The beatings will continue until morale improves! Maybe people aren't paying attention because they aren't really interested in your crazy headed notions of consent that go far beyond what the law really requires and bear no resemblance to the way things happen in the real world?

Anonymous about 4 years ago

Like the first installation, I feel that this article misses the mark a bit. It's really easy to propose sweeping changes, but unfortunately not as simple to make them a reality. Most of this article seems like a lot of talk and not many actual, concrete, NEW ideas about this topic. I would have appreciated a fresher perspective.

One small detail that stuck out to me: the Sex Signals production. I remember attending as a freshman, and I don't remember any violent or triggering behavior at all. Give some examples? It seemed somewhat informative, but harmless. Why is it necessary to include 'non-gender binary' examples in the presentation??

Pretty sure that GRTs and housemasters are sufficiently "up to date" on anti-harassment and anti-violence training.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

tl;dr: Less humor! More administration!

Just what every MIT student wants, right? Right?

Anonymous about 4 years ago

It seems that there is this constant push to make everything very politically correct, as with the first article, and the article quickly gets derailed from the main point that you're trying to (are you even trying to?) make. For example, as 3 said, what's the constant inclusion of "non-gender binary" diversity in this article- do you want to talk about LGBT issues or rape culture? Keep to your topic and stop trying to use your 2 minutes in the spotlight to highlight every issue you seem to care about so much and focus on the topic that you actually want to talk about. Otherwise, you risk diluting the conversation- and you most certainly have with both of these articles.

I agree with the authors that sexual assault is a real issue that we have to deal with. Unfortunately, the wording of both articles detracts from that conversation and frequently goes off in tangents that are distracting and unnecessary. I suggest that if and when the authors write an article to draw attention to an issue, they focus on a single issue and make useful, actionable suggestions.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

Specifically, when charges are brought, MITs disciplinary actions for those who commit sexual assault or rape do not always lead to expulsion.

Well, yeah. Not because someone is charged with x means they are guilty of x. If every rape charge resulted in an expulsion, that'd be absurd.

Many offenders are merely suspended or given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again, whereas they ought to be expelled.

I'm curious, what are some cases of students that have been found guilty of raping someone (by a court or other authority) that haven't been expelled from MIT? For all of the roles that MIT has to play in preventing and handling rape on campus, determining guilt seems best left to the courts. If someone is found guilty, though, I wholeheartedly agree they have no place in this community.

Edmund Bertschinger about 4 years ago

As President Reif has said, "we must all treat sexual assault as a fundamental violation of our values that will not be 'normalized,' glossed over or tolerated at MIT." There are few absolutes at MIT, but this is one.

I applaud the authors for bringing light to a significant problem at MIT that is of concern to the Administration. In addition to the steps taken by MIT, I urge each reader of this article to consider what they would do if they are in a position where consent for sexual conduct is not explicit. A recent article from the New York Times gives something to ponder, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/education/edlife/stepping-up-to-stop-sexual-assault.html?hpwrrefeducation_r1

Anonymous about 4 years ago

This is an important issue and I think it deserves discussion. At the same time, couldn't you have gotten a copy editor? Or maybe gone to the Writing Center? Did no one at the Tech proofread this? This is very poorly written. The overall flow of the piece is weak, the paragraph-level flow of the piece is weak, the sentence-level work is weak, there are past/present tense mistakes, there are typos, there are oddly placed commas, and there is unnecessary word repetition. I feel like this could have been stronger, and so much more powerful, if someone along the way had only spent an extra few hours or involved someone who knows how to write.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

#8: Didn't you hear? You have to say "survivor" so many times in order to make sure everyone knows you're against rape.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

Rape culture is an important issue, and it's something MIT needs to have a productive, meaningful conversation about.

Alas, this article misses the mark just as much as the first one. All we have is another rambling, poorly written piece, going on tangents about how bad a very specific program is (e.g. Voo Doo; FLP), and even using the piece to ask readers to watch a documentary made by one of the authors.

Now, people who may have been open to a conversation about rape culture will associate it with people promoting censorship and personal agendas.

Amazingly, Buzzfeed was able to do a better job of describing rape culture in a thoughtful way... http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/what-is-rape-culture

Anonymous about 4 years ago

The issues the authors try to address are important, and badly in need of real discussion. This article does the issues a severe disservice, and the authors should re-think their willingness to speak for the MIT community on this issue. Ed Bertschinger offers more in two paragraphs than the authors do in this entire piece.

Instead of focusing on the political correctness issues related to talking about sexual assault (the authors both criticize those talking about their experiences as triggering, and praise the efforts by dx/dt), let's focus on how we can support those navigating the process of getting justice. Where could MIT be better? One of the only concrete suggestions in the article was switching out the freshman training program for one that Harvard uses. What makes that program better? Have any universities reported improvements on campus based on any programs?

This is the dialog that needs to be happening. Not murals, not voo doo, not censorship of survivor stories. How do we teach students about consent? And, how can MIT best support survivors?

Anonymous about 4 years ago

This article and the one preceding it bring up a serious issue, people being raped at MIT. Almost all of the comments are objecting to the solutions that the authors offer because they are perceived to limit freedom of speech. The people who make these objections offer no other solutions.

The men of MIT should be ashamed of this.

What is your responsibility as a man to prevent rape in your community? As long as you don't rape anyone yourself, are you totally off the hook?

If you are the kind of guy who would never do something like this, and you believe it is totally unacceptable in your community. doesn't it bother you that other guys are doing it and getting away with it?

And why? Because their victims are afraid to pursue it because they are afraid that they will not be taken seriously. And from these comments, it is obvious why they would feel that way.

So what can you do? Here the authors are offering something very simple you can do to help: change the way you talk about rape, and challenge others on how they talk about it.

Just because you intend a joke a certain way, that does not mean others perceive it that way. Potential rapists may hear it as validation. Victims may hear it as a warning to shut up.

And yet the overwhelming response of MIT men, based on these comments, seems to be "No, that is too hard. We would rather see women continue to get raped than limit in any way our right to make stupid, immature, insensitive jokes."


It has been said that "privilege" means believing something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally. The commenters are not standing up for freedom of speech, but for male privilege.

If you are not challenging this attitude then make no mistake, you are complicit in rape.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

#11 - THIS. I had to just chime in to second these thoughts. This piece is so badly and confusingly written, and I would have loved to have seen it discuss some of the questions listed above.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

#12 - This isn't the message I got from either article at all. I read both articles and found them to be vague, grasping at political correct cliches rather than challenging the MIT community to think more deeply about this important topic. I also second #11 that educating students about consent should be a priority, but the authors here don't explain WHY the program they suggest is better than existing resources. What ARE our existing resources? They need to focus on a train of thought and really explain it.

I see no arguments for male privilege in the comments. I'd hazard a guess that the commenters (myself included) were just disappointed with the quality of the articles, and felt that they wasted an opportunity to educate the campus.

Anonymous about 4 years ago

It seems to me that increasing discussions about rape culture would necessarily increase the risk of triggering someone sensitive to that topic.

Avoiding causing others distress is a fine goal, but the methods by which you do this might be worse for the community than the original distress. I have a lot of sympathy for someone who can't talk about rape/sexual assault because of past trauma, but I don't think avoiding the issue at FLP (or in general) is a useful solution.

I have absolutely no idea what the current discussions at FLP look like.

#12 about 4 years ago

#14: In response to such a big issue, focusing on the authors' writing styles is petty. A rape victim reading this would not be so concerned about that. So you are privileged to be able to focus on it.

What bothers me is not that people are questioning the solutions that the authors present, but that they are not offering any alternate solutions. It's as if the default position is to do nothing until someone eloquently convinces you there is something worth doing.

Think about what you mean you say "grasping at political correctness". I think you mean that you don't need to take the authors' ideas seriously because you see them as part of a generally misguided effort by do-gooders to change the world by telling you to change the words you use. Dumping them in this broad category is an excuse to avoid really thinking about them. You have to decide what you say or don't say, and you can evaluate these ideas on their own merit. When you reject them you are begging the question, "so what ARE you going to do about it?'

Anonymous about 4 years ago

#16: Re. Alternate Solutions: Yo might find this to be a good read: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?DontComplainWithoutAlternatives

" "Don't complain without alternatives" is simply a hifalutin' way of saying "stop whining". Reasonable, rational, substantiated, and comprehensive critique is fine, whether alternatives are presented or not. "

Anonymous about 4 years ago


How do you know that the people replying are men? They posted anonymously. You do know that women can think critically too, don't you?

James Herms 87 about 4 years ago

More critically than men? Inconceivable!