[Crimson] Sexual Assault Referendum Makes UC Ballot

By Michelle Denise L. Ferreol, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

When students vote for Undergraduate Council president this fall, they can also cast a vote calling on Harvard to revise its policies for handling sexual assault.

Thanks to an online petition that garnered the 670 signatures required by the Council to create a ballot question, voters may indicate their approval of a long list of changes to Harvard’s practices.

The referendum calls for Harvard to endorse the concept of “affirmative consent” to sex, more clearly define “mental incapacitation” that renders a person unable to consent, adopt BGLTQ-inclusive language in its assault policies, and increase the transparency of the case review process.

Kate Sim ’14, who created the successful petition along with Pearl Bhatnagar ’14, described the referendum as “a signal of our agency as students in claiming our mental and physical safety on campus.”

Launched early Thursday morning, the petition garnered more than 300 undergraduate signatures in its first 12 hours online and achieved the 670-signature target Friday evening.

Bhatnagar said that the response indicates broad student interest in changing sexual assault policies, and UC Student Initiatives Committee Chair Nicholas W. Galat ’13 added that the upcoming vote will reinforce that.

“Taking this issue to a referendum will give the UC a more credible stance on what the students want and will allow us to directly say that we do speak for the students,” Galat said.

The last time the University made substantial changes to its sexual assault policies was in 2003. After two stranger rapes—the first in 12 years—were reported at Harvard over the summer, and a former Amherst College student made waves nationwide by publishing an essay on the school’s insensitive response to her rape, Bhatnagar said Harvard should be reconsidering those policies now.

“In light of the recent reviews that our peer institutions have pursued, this is a chance for Harvard to improve upon the safety mechanisms that it already has in place for its students,” she said.

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