Wagatwe Wanjuki, Sexual Assault Activist, Nominated for Tufts Honorary Degree
Today, sexual assault on campus is a major national issue, and colleges are being forced to re-evaluate how they handle sexual assault cases. But, in 2008, after being assaulted at school, Tufts University student Wagatwe Wanjuki never had a chance to graduate — instead, she was expelled after her grades began to drop. Now, Tufts students have nominated Wanjuki to receive an honorary degree in recognition of her ongoing activism against sexual assault.
According to statements made by Wanjuki in the past, after she was repeatedly assaulted by a fellow student with whom she was in a relationship, she tried to report the crime to the university only to be told that their legal department said the administration didn't have to take action. After her grades suffered in the aftermath of the assault (not unusual for survivors and especially for those who don't get support from their schools), Wanjuki was eventually forced to leave the university without graduating, even though her grades still qualified her for graduation.
Since then, Wanjuki has been outspoken against sexual assault, and is involved in groups such as Know Your IX. She also started the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege in response to George Will's Washington Post column about campus sexual assault.
Now, John Kelly, a Tufts student who also publicly identifies as a survivor, has nominated Wanjuki to receive an honorary degree from the institution from which she was so unjustly expelled. In a piece published in the Tufts student newspaper, Kelly and co-authors Alex Flannigan, Phoenix Tso, and Ruby Vail write, "Wagatwe Wanjuki is one of the most influential former Tufts students, but she does not have a degree from this institution." They add that Wanjuki still "represents the best of Tufts — she took a horrible experience and turned it into substantive, societal change." For this reason, they feel it is time for the university to correct its mistake and offer Wanjuki the degree she should never have been denied.
At a time when universities are trying to change their attitudes toward sexual assault, this could be an important gesture for Tufts to make — a way of facing up to past wrong-doing. Though it would certainly be understandable if Wanjuki herself decided that she didn't want anything to do with Tufts anymore, at least the university would be taking responsibility for the way a student was mistreated. You can't move forward until you really face the things you've done wrong.
And if Wanjuki does want that degree, she certainly deserves it. In fact, from where I'm standing, she deserves a hell of a lot more, too. But the degree would be a good start.