Ever since Abby Tassel’s resignation as the coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program, the student body has been heavily pressuring the administration to be conscious not only of Abby’s enormous and influential role in the preservation of the program, but also of the need to hire an equally committed and competent successor. From gatherings to recognize Tassel’s work to testimonial packets delivered by hand to top administrators, student actions show that the preservation of SAAP, as established by Tassel, is at the forefront of their concerns for Dartmouth’s future. Luckily, the administration, after being accused of less than enthusiastic support of Tassel’s work, has heeded students’ demands and made a good move by hiring April Thompson as director of judicial affairs.
Students who have had positive experiences with Tassel cite her commitment, compassion, and most importantly, dedication to the well-being of students as characteristics that made her a truly special and unique advocate within the College staff. Thompson will carry on these characteristics. Her exaperience as assistant and interim head of judicial affairs has well prepared her for the upcoming adjustment to full directorship. Even more importantly, Thompson brings knowledge and familiarity in issues of sexual assault awareness to her new position, and therefore also newly establishes Dartmouth’s disciplinary infrastructure as a key ally of survivors of such assaults.
Tassel herself is greatly enthusiastic about Thompson’s appointment. “I have had the honor of sitting in the room,” she said, “with her and victims of sexual assault many, many times.” Thompson’s experience and insight into the workings of the Committee on Standards and other disciplinary procedures, as well as her dealings with SAAP, have given her “great respect, empathy, honesty and an understanding of the importance of participants fully understanding the process. She would never presume to know better than the survivor what will be helpful to her or him, which is the best anyone can hope for,” said Tassel.
This advocacy of students’ rights and interests is one of the greatest concerns about the future of SAAP in Tassel’s absence. SAPA and SAAP intern Robin Rathmann-Noonan ’05 describes survivors’ ability to “feel safe” around Thompson, which is particularly important in the absence of a permanent coordinator of SAAP. Equally important is Thompson’s commitment to transparency, not only about the process of disciplinary action but also about the relationship between the students and the administration. “The fact that she is in touch with what students feel gives her the ability to make students feel that they are advocated for by the administration,” said Rathmann-Noonan. Tassel echoes these sentiments, saying that “April has an amazing talent for fully supporting all students involved with the judicial process.”
This feeling of trust and faith in Thompson, on the part of the students, is perhaps the most important and encouraging aspect of her appointment as head of judicial affairs. It is probable that many survivors, SAPAs and other members of the student body felt disillusioned with the amount of support, both emotionally and legally, they would get from the College, in light of Tassel’s resignation. There was definitely a general concern about the future of the SAAP as a whole. SAPA Aya Caldwell ’06 has said that “Abby was a voice for us,” when students were not in a position to speak up for themselves.
There is no doubt that it will be difficult to replace Tassel as coordinator of SAAP specifically. The administration should certainly take the issue extremely seriously when searching for a successor. However, Thompson’s appointment is greatly reassuring in the meantime, and ensures all students another ally who is willing to advocate for students in their most difficult times at Dartmouth. Tassel puts it simply: “she rocks.”