Rethinking the Way Harvard Treats Date Rape
College officials say that the Administrative Board is on the verge of establishing a new policy on date rape. Well, not a new policy exactly, since the College's disciplinary board never had one to start with.
A date rape task force, convened last fall by Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, last month drafted a policy recommendation that College officials say they hope to implement beginning next fall.
Jewett established the task force after student activists charged that the University's disciplinary guidelines were too weak and that administrators held a "blame the victim" mentality toward cases of date rape.
The debate was touched off when a Crimson article printed quotes attributed to Jewett and Assistant Dean of FAS Jeffrey Wolcowitz which seemed to blame victims of sexual assaults for not clearly expressing their unwillingness to engage in sexual activity. Jewett and Wolcowitz later said that their comments had been taken out of context.
"I think the women often find it difficult to say a forceful 'no,'" Wolcowitz was quoted as saying. Wolcowitz frequently chairs the ad hoc subcomittees which hear sexual assault cases.
Within days of the article's publication, students began postering, holding candlelight vigils, and crowding into University Hall to protest the deans' statements.
After meeting with student protesters to explain his position, Jewett organized the 17-person Date Rape Task Force to write a college policy on date rape and to revamp the disciplinary board's procedures if necessary. The task force included students, faculty members, and administrators--including members of the Ad Board.
Jewett said that although he had not planned a reevaluation of the board's policy on date rape prior to the protests, "Everything I've heard suggests that there have been some very important clarifications [in the disciplinary policy] made as a result."
Task force members say that one of their first jobs was to come up with a clear definition of sexual assault. In the absence of any specific definition, the Ad Board had previously decided what constituted sexual assault on a case-by-case basis.
Sexual assault cases thus fell under the disciplinary board's loose prohibition against "behavior unbecoming a Harvard student." Ad Board members generally interpret this clause to refer to behavior that violates Massachusetts state law, says Janet A. Viggiani, co-chair of the task force.
Viggiani, who is also assistant dean for co-education, said that the task force's recommendations also include making a number of changes in the Ad Board's procedures for handling date rape cases. For instance, the Board might make the standard of "sufficient evidence" that an impropri-