Sexual Assault at Harvard

“I want to know what happened in that room when they were making a decision that changed my entire life.”

Julie, an undergraduate, says she will never understand why the Administrative Board decided in its closed deliberations in the Forum Room on the third floor of Lamont Library to allow the student who sexually assaulted her to remain on campus.

Julie, who has been granted anonymity by The Crimson because she fears retaliation from her perpetrator, initially felt optimistic about the College’s response to her sexual assault. After reporting the rape, Julie felt encouraged by the responses of Harvard University Police Department and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Assured that there was significant evidence to build a case against the perpetrator, Julie took her case to the Ad Board.

In light of this, she said, the Ad Board’s ultimate decision not to require the perpetrator to withdraw was particularly disheartening.

Paola, another College student who was sexually assaulted on campus, also found OSAPR to be a helpful resource. Yet she expresses deep disappointment with the way that administrators respond to students coming forward with experiences of sexual assault. “They question the event so much and ask if you were in the wrong so many times that, after a while, one begins questioning if it even happened,” she writes in an email to The Crimson. Paola, who has been granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect her pivacy, decided not to pursue her case with the Ad Board in part because she knew the perpetrator.

For a growing number of students on campus, stories like Julie’s and Paola’s highlight what they describe as a disparity between Harvard’s many resources for the victims of sexual assault and the policies that govern the ways in which incidents of sexual assault are investigated and adjudicated. These critics, who include sexual assault survivors and campus activists, say that the Ad Board’s written policy language is not favorable to victims of sexual assault, and that the Ad Board’s lack of transparency about its processes intimidates students who bring their cases before the Board.

Harvard is currently conducting an ongoing review of its sexual assault policies across its various schools and has recently hired its first ever University-wide Title IX coordinator, who begins work this month. Still, some students feel that these efforts are not enough. They say that changes in the way administrators handle cases of sexual assault at the College level are progressing too slowly, and are not sufficiently responsive to student concerns.

Read more: Sexual Assault at Harvard



[Crimson] Democracy At Work: UC Ballot measures are a welcome development

from the Harvard Crimson 

For the first time in six years, Harvard College students will vote on more than their favorite Undergraduate Council leaders in the upcoming UC election. This year’s UC ballot will feature three referenda on some of the College’s most hotly debated questions: University sexual assault policy, divestment from fossil fuels, and University absorption of the Fair Harvard Fund, a social choice fund developed by students last year. Unlike previous years’ ballots, which merely required students to make the largely inconsequential choice between presidential and vice presidential contenders, this year’s ballot invites undergraduates to make their voices heard on issues that matter.

Importantly, all three of this year’s referenda have made it onto the ballot thanks to the hard, determined work of student activists. Harvard has a storied history of inspiring student activism: Student-organized campaigns have compelled Harvard to make important changesin its labor practices and expand resources for women. There is little doubt that activism has done much to steer the University forward, and the work of contemporary student activists ought to be commended in the same regard. The U.C. should encourage more of this sort of grassroots involvement in the governance of student life on campus.

The proposed sexual assault policy changes warrant the most urgent attention of these questions. The long-overdue proposals of Kate Sim ’14 and Pearl Bhatnagar ’14 includesuggested changes that would drastically increase the power of students in combating assault. Specifically, they reframe sexual assault policy to reflect affirmative consent and call for increased administration transparency with federal law enforcement.

Moreover, the referendum proposes crucial increases in specificity and clarity in the wording of sexual assault policies. These include revising the “mental incapacitation” phrase to more clearly refer to the point at which someone is unable to consent under the influence, as well as using language inclusive of LGBTQ-identifying students.

Many of these policy changes have already been instituted at fellow universities, and the recent occurrence of two stranger rapes at Harvard makes their arrival to our campus tardy. Due to the urgent need for such changes to be implemented, all students should vote for the sexual assault policy referendum during the fall elections. In addition, the Undergraduate Council should continue to publicize the process by which students can propose petitions for referenda of their own. With an amplified voice for the student body, we are confident the most crucial issues on our campus can be solved.