In May of 2017, Tufts administrators charged several seniors with various allegations including indecent exposure, sexual exploitation, and sexual misconduct after they were found to have participated in the Naked Quad Run (NQR), an event held on May 3 this past spring. NQR had been an annual tradition for Tufts students for decades until the practice was ended in 2011 due to concerns over student health.
Two of the students charged, Robert Sucsy (LA’17), who is now a student at The Tufts Medical School, and another student who wishes to remain anonymous due to concerns of further punishment from the administration, said they believe that the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) used footage from Tufts’ video surveillance system in order to identify seniors who had participated in the event.
“During my meeting with the administration, I was made to feel as if Tufts held proof of my participation in NQR,” the student said. “My conversations...led me to believe that they used video footage from the security cameras placed throughout campus to identify participants after the fact.”
When asked, TUPD spokesperson Kevin Maguire declined to confirm or deny that video footage was used to identify students.
According to Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft, video evidence is sometimes used in dealing with student breaches of the university code of conduct and other internal, non-criminal investigations.
“When resolving cases according to the procedures specified in the Student Judicial Process, we consider all evidence that is submitted,” he told the Daily in an email, specifying that “in some cases, audio, video, or photos are also submitted.”
Tufts has been using video surveillance since 2012, when it spearheaded a program to improve the video security on all three campuses. According to the Video Security website, the primary aim of the program is to “utilize video security as a public safety, emergency response and crime prevention tool on its Boston, Grafton and Medford/Somerville campuses.”
According to Maguire, who also serves as the Director of Tufts’ Department of Public and Environmental Safety and was the lead director of the surveillance program in 2012, TUPD does not release the placement or number of cameras around campus.
Maguire said that all cameras are visible, though TUPD does not release informations of specific numbers or locations of cameras. He also said that most are on the exterior of buildings and in entranceways.
In addition, Maguire said that video footage is deleted after thirty days unless it is part of an ongoing investigation.
University Vice President Patricia Campbell, who, according to the Department of Public and Environmental Safety’s website, co-sponsored the project along with former Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder, explained that the university didn’t have a policy for this activity despite already using video cameras on campus. They realized that other colleges and universities had security policies governing their surveillance systems.
Campbell also said that administrators met with Tufts students on all three campuses in an effort to partner with students in the creation of this policy.
At the time, however, concerns about the presence of cameras in general were aired by students and other members of the Tufts community. In Sept. 2012, the Daily published a student op-ed as well as an editorial critiquing the university’s plan to install cameras and create the video security policy.
“Placing security cameras in public meeting places such as the President’s Lawn, academic quads or potentially the roof of the Tisch Library would make many students uncomfortable, and the existing evidence in support of placing these cameras is insufficient to justify community members being monitored,” the editorial reads.
It is also important to note that Tufts’ student body, like that of all four year universities, has almost completely changed in the past four years, and very few, if any, students who would have been present for the 2012 community engagement initiative.
Campbell insisted that Tufts has maintained transparency around video surveillance, pointing out that at the beginning of each semester the University sends an email to students reminding them to “familiarize themselves with university policies and how to access them.” These emails do not directly mention the video surveillance policy, and include a link to the Student Affairs webpage.
Of the 233 students who responded to an electronic survey the Daily made available to Tufts students, 62 percent said they first became aware of the cameras due to their own observation. Only 11.8 percent of the respondents knew about the policy by reading the emails sent out by the administration. A total of 31 students said that they did not know there were cameras on campus until taking the Daily’s survey.
“I am not entirely sure what purpose security cameras serve here on campus, and perhaps if I knew more about how the footage was used, I might be more ok with its existence,” one student wrote in response to a question asking if they felt safer on campus because of the cameras.
When asked if they had concerns that their activities were being filmed and could be used by Tufts authorities, 52 percent of students responded “Yes”.
According to Maguire, video surveillance at Tufts is intended to ensure student safety.
“Video security is used as part of an umbrella of safety and security elements … all to enhance safety and security here at Tufts like colleges and universities do throughout the United States,” he said.
Campbell echoed this claim, adding that petty crime has decreased since the program has been implemented.
In addition, according to the university’s video security policy, surveillance footage collected on campus can be distributed to local law enforcement such as the Medford and Somerville police departments.
According to Maguire, surveillance cameras are placed where there is
“no reasonable expectation of privacy.” However, two students who responded to the Daily’s survey said they needed to ask to have cameras removed from certain locations as a result of privacy concerns.
One student disclosed in the survey that they have had multiple negative encounters with cameras on campus.
“Each one of these discoveries was through the personal experiences of my friends having TUPD make it clear that they ‘knew where’ my friends were,” they wrote.
According to the online video security policy, the purpose of the cameras is for public safety. “Video security is designed for the protection of people and property, where the main intent is to capture video and store it on a remote device” explains the policy.
In addition, despite assurances that all cameras are visible, the policy does not prevent the use of other types of video surveillance not made immediately visible to students.
“Mobile or hidden video security equipment may be used in criminal investigations by DPES [Department of Environmental Safety] only. Covert video security equipment may also be used for non-criminal investigations into specific instances that may be a significant risk to public safety, security and property as authorized by the Director of Public and Environmental Safety or designee,” the policy says.
The Daily’s 2012 editorial points out that “the majority of alert emails DPES sent out to community members on the Medford/Somerville campus in the past few years described crimes that took place in areas adjacent to campus, not on campus,” highlighting skepticism about the system’s intended use.
However, the University has the ability to decide when to distribute the recorded surveillance, including non-criminal cases such as the seniors’ violation of university code of conduct due to their participation in the NQR.
“University Relations will seek consultation and advice from the General Counsel related to these requests prior to the release of records,” the policy reads. It is of note that the division University Relations is headed by Senior Vice President Mary Jeka, who also serves as Tufts’ General Counsel.
Additionally, the policy gives DPES the ability to use hidden or mobile cameras in criminal investigations.
Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the
American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, explained that these kinds of ambiguities in restriction are often the reason video security programs become problematic on college campuses.
“This is an example of what surveillance watchers call ‘mission creep’,” Crockford said. “Anytime...a university wants to use surveillance technology, if they choose to explain that to the public and disclose that they intend to purchase the technology and install it, they will often marshall some defense that typically takes the form of public safety. This is why mission creep is such a problem, because if administrations...do not very clearly delineate how they intend to use technologies like surveillance cameras, it’s almost inevitable that they will be used for purposes the advocates did not initially explain to the rest of the community.”
Student discomfort with Tufts’ surveillance and policing practices grows
In an article discussing his vision for Tufts in 2012, President Anthony Monaco addressed student concerns over the new video surveillance policy in similar terms.
“Now I think, as far as I understand it, these are not going to be someone sitting with a deck full of monitors watching Tufts students go about their daily lives,” he said. “This is just on a recording basis, so if there was an assault or if there was a theft or someone got into a dorm room … [Public Safety] could go back … and review the tapes, and that should help them catch the culprits.”
Recently, however, student concerns around police presence on campus have been growing, not only in regard to video surveillance but primarily due to TUPD’s use of unmarked police vehicles. These concerns, highlighted in a Sept. 25 Observer article by Jonathan Innocent, are most prevalent among students with marginalized identities, particularly black students.
In an Oct. 15 email to the Daily, LGBT Center Director Hope Freeman wrote that she had requested cameras be placed outside the Bolles house this past summer to monitor for possible homophobic activity and hate crimes “as a result of numerous reported homophobic and transphobic attacks and slurs hurled at LGBTQ students at the end of last semester.”
However, she found that in addition to these cameras, one had been placed in the main lobby of the building. She requested it be removed, which it was less than a week later.
“When coming into the center and seeing the camera in the lobby you could already feel a shift in the sense of safety and it was not positive, the students did not like this feeling and neither did the Directors,” Freeman wrote.
Such incidents as the ones relayed in the Observer article and by Freeman indicate that a lack of transparency on the part of TUPD can lead to mistrust and suspicion from Tufts community members.
“If these surveillance vehicles are to be used in the interest of the community, we should be informed about why, and to what end,” Innocent writes in the Observer. “The more I walk on this campus at night and notice a black vehicle with tinted black windows parked outside of Aidekman or stowed in the first level parking lot in front of their station at Dowling, it becomes harder for me to know if TUPD is watching out for me, or just plain watching me.”
Crockford spoke to Daily about the importance of transparency in surveillance practices.
“When surveillance unfolds in secret, communities are not invited to participate in a dialogue or policy-establishing conversations that would enable folks in the community to feel comfortable with surveillance cameras,” she said.
Part of the need for these conversations, Crockford said, is in order to ensure that surveillance technologies are not “used in ways the community would find inappropriate.”
Spying on Streakers?
On May 3 2017, a group of students gathered on the Academic Quad to participate in a loosely-planned recreation of the Naked Quad Run (NQR), an annual event that had been a sanctioned Tufts tradition for decades until the practice was ended in 2011 due to concerns over student health.
According to Maguire, the NQR was cancelled after 2011 due to concerns about students health and safety. These concerns were reiterated in an “Jumbo Digest” email sent by the Dean of Student Affairs (DOSA) Office to members of the Tufts community on April 30, 2017--just three days before the NQR.
“The NQR was banned...because of the many serious legal and public safety concerns it raised, including violations of law, injuries, possible predatory actions, and the widespread circulation of students’ photos on the internet without their permission” the email explains.
The Daily spoke to two recent graduates — Robert Sucsy (LA’ 17), who is now a student at the Tufts School of Medicine, and a 2017 graduate who wishes to remain anonymous due to concerns about further punishment from administration — who say that they received disciplinary action as a result of evidence they believe was gathered through surveillance cameras. Both students felt that the use of video footage to investigate students for minor, non-criminal code of conduct violations was inappropriate.
Sucsy said that both he and the anonymous student were notified of having broken the Tufts Code of Conduct during Senior Week. Then, on June 15th, Sucsy was emailed a letter from the Dean of Student Affairs Christopher Rossi specifying Sucsy’s individual breaches of Tufts Policy. Sucsy was charged with Indecent Exposure, while according to the anonymous alum, they and other students contacted by TUPD were charged with allegations including indecent exposure, sexual exploitation, and sexual misconduct.
According to the letter sent by Rossi to Sucsy, the accused hadvarious options available to him. Both alumni opted for accepting responsibility which meant that the case was handled by a dean’s decision. This resulted in Sucsy being placed on disciplinary probation, and not being able to register for his graduate school classes on time.
According to the anonymous alum, there were at least two other students who were contacted and punished by administration. Sucsy and the anonymous alum have marks on their transcript through May 2018, while two other students have marks until December 2017 and an unspecified date in 2019.
Sucsy told the Daily that during a phone call he had with administrators about the charges, Rossi, who handled the investigations, referred to evidence of the students’ involvements and promised to back up claims of such evidence if the student did not admit guilt.
The anonymous alum told the Daily that they believe the evidence Rossi referred to was footage from Tufts’ video surveillance system.
When asked via email, Maguire did not respond to the Daily’s question as to how these students who participated in the NQR were identified.
Kraft declined to disclose how students were identified, telling the Daily in an email that he was unable to comment on individual cases due to concerns for student privacy.
However, Kraft did confirm that the university is sometimes provided with surveillance footage as part of evidence for investigations, even when they are non-criminal. This is made clear in the video security policy as well.
Rossi did not respond to multiple requests for comment made by the Daily in time for the publication of this article.
Sucsy said that after he admitted to participating in the NQR, he was asked by administration to write a letter regarding his decision to do so. In the letter, which was provided to the Daily by Sucsy, he was asked to respond to such questions as: “What have you learned about yourself and your decision making as a result of this situation” and “In what ways does running naked in public impact yourself and others?”
In response, Sucsy maintained that the event was in no way a public safety concern and had no detrimental results for students, expressing his frustration with the administration’s focus on the case.
“As for the impact on myself,” he added, “I have had to spend many hours jumping through hoops so that the administration of a school I no longer attend will not force me out of my graduate program.”
In his letter, Sucsy noted the importance of events like the NQR for students, explaining that it is one of the only events where students can feel they have agency in their community.
“One of the reasons the NQR is so revered by students is because pretty much every event at Tufts is coordinated through an administrator at one point,” the letter reads. “So the run is an opportunity to take place in an event that we feel we have control over, if only for ten minutes.”
Crockford explained to the Daily that for institutions like Tufts, video surveillance is primarily about controlling the actions of community members.
“Surveillance is about power and control. If you know what everybody else is doing, and has been doing, with whom, when and
where, you have a lot of power to control those people and control the community,” she said. “And that’s clearly what happened here.”
Despite having been punished for his participation, Sucsy maintained that the event was an extremely positive experience.
“The event which I attended was one of the most positive atmospheres I experienced at any college event,” he wrote in his letter to the administration.