Abby Tassel, coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program and coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Peer Advisors, announced her resignation Monday after more than four years at Dartmouth College. Her last day of work is April 22.
Some students close to Tassel speculated that she left out of frustration with other administrators at the College.
During her time at the College, Tassel initiated several new programs, including Consent Day, Speak Out and Survivor Stories, and other student-initiated groups, including Concerned Students and Abroad Change, have thrived under her care. SAPA training has become more popular, and a new SAPA hotline is set to start Wednesday. More people have reported cases of sexual abuse on campus since Tassel was hired, perhaps evidence of her success at raising awareness of the problem.
“Abby was so integral to our student body … she was our voice,” SAPA Aya Caldwell ’06 said. “When you’re coping with sexual assault, you are in no position to speak up, so Abby was that voice for us.”
Mark Reed, director of Health Resources at Dick’s House, said there are both short-term and long-term plans for replacing the work that Tassel does. The Center for Women and Gender and Health Resources will look for a replacement for Tassel, as well as add a full-time job to share the work.
In the meantime, Xenia Markowitt, director of the Center for Women and Gender, will advise Abroad Change and Concerned Students, while Heather Earle, a Dick’s House psychologist who was Abby’s predecessor, will run the SAPA hotline. Before leaving, Tassel will train selected staff to be first responders for student problems. The counseling staff at Dick’s House will be available day and night for emergencies.
Although Tassel gave no definite reasons for resigning, those who work closely with Tassel said they believe her position is a very taxing one, and it is time for her to move on from the constant stress.
“I think she wanted a break, or a change of scenery. It is important for people to take care of themselves and do what feels right for them,” Reed said.
Robin Rathmann-Noonan ’05, one of Tassel’s Sexual Abuse Awareness Program interns, agreed that Tassel’s job is difficult.
“Her job is unimaginably demanding, and at some point you have to take care of yourself,” Rathmann-Noonan said. “I look at what she’s done and I cannot believe she’s been able to do it with such energy for four and a half years.”
Many said they believe that Tassel may have resigned due to the Dartmouth community and administration’s alleged lack of recognition and support for her position.
“I think there are things that the administration could have done to be more helpful or to be more receptive to her comments or programs,” said Caitlin Farrell ’05, another of Tassel’s interns. Farrell said she believes Tassel did what she could to effect change but that it was easier for most of Dartmouth to accept things the way they were.
“Maintaining the status quo is a lot easier than being proactive for change, for a cultural shift on the Dartmouth campus. Being vocal and being assertive in her advocacy — and not just accepting the status quo — put her in a more political position,” Farrell said.
Reed, too, said that Tassel came against political struggles during her time at the College.
“There are political issues working with students and administrators. It can be a consuming job,” he said.
Rathmann-Noonan said she herself has experienced opposition from the administration during advocacy work, recalling that “some deans are positive, some of them are negative.” However, she was hesitant to speculate about Tassel’s reasons for resignation and said she can only imagine what Tassel may have dealt with based on her own frustrating experiences.
“Maybe there were five things that happened in the last month that put her over the edge, maybe she’s just come to closure in this position and wants to find something new to do,” Rathmann-Noonan said.
Whatever her reasons for leaving, students who have worked closely with Tassel are worried about the future of sexual abuse advocacy at Dartmouth.
“[Sexual assault] is not a trivial issue, and at times I’ve felt like I look somebody in the eye and, given their response, they don’t think it’s their responsibility to do something right away,” Rathmann-Noonan said.
Students are also worried that Tassel’s hard work and dedication will not be fully appreciated until after she leaves her post.
“Anyone who didn’t appreciate her presence will notice her absence. You’re going to notice her impact more by her not being here,” Monica Barrera ’05 said.