The Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) began a campaign Friday to overturn the Faculty’s decision to require complainants to have corroborating evidence before the Administrative Board will proceeds with cases including sexual assaults.
CASV members sent a message over House e-mail lists explaining the change and urging students to forward another e-mail addressed to Faculty to their professors.
Sarah Levit-Shore ’04, a CASV member, said the e-mails were meant to educate students and Faculty about the decision and to explain why they think it is unfair to victims.
“Because not the entire Faculty was present at the meeting and because the repercussions of the [change] might not have been clear, we’re asking the Faculty to educate themselves and to bring it up for discussion again and to overturn it,” Levit-Shore said.
In both e-mails, CASV suggested that the new change will negatively impact students’ safety on campus.
“This change sends the message to students that Harvard will not protect them should they become victims of sexual assault and sends the message to perpetrators of sexual assault that they can commit assault freely without needing to worry about being punished,” stated the e-mail from CASV.
David B. Fithian, assistant dean of the College and the secretary of the Ad Board, said that the new preliminary evidence stage—which will determine whether cases go forward—is meant to help prevent students from going through a long Ad Board process when there is little hope of the Board reaching a conclusion.
“Part of the reason why the Ad Board does want to adopt these recommended changes is that we want to be more up-front about what people can expect from our process,” Fithian said.
“My biggest fear is that the way in which filing a complaint immediately initiated an investigation...triggered a hope in which people naturally thought the College wouldn’t pursue this if they didn’t think the person was responsible or guilty,” he said.
But Matthew E. Kutcher ’01-’02, a CASV member, said that he thinks students are capable of understanding the Ad Board’s restricted investigating ability.
“You can definitely enumerate the limits of the Ad Board and then allow that person to make their own choice,” Kutcher said.
He said that the new procedural change will take “agency” away from students bringing a complaint.
Fithian said the Ad Board will do everything it can for the complainants who bring cases before them.
“It couldn’t be farther from the truth that we’re somehow washing our hands and abandoning our cases,” Fithian said. “If the information is such that we can go either way we’re going to do an investigation.”
Levit-Shore said that while she is glad the Ad Board is admitting its limitations, this measure seems more like they are abandoning their responsibility to punish sexual assault.
“Harvard has $20 billion and a lot of smart people and giving up is not what you do when you face a challenge,” Levit-Shore said.
Levit-Shore said that she has gotten e-mails from students, faculty and alumni who are also concerned about the decision.
Rebeccah G. Watson ’04, co-president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, said she has already received responses from the Faculty to whom she forwarded CASV’s e-mail—some of whom did not know about the changes.
“I was really surprised with the responses,” she said.
Coalition members are also planning a rally—tentatively scheduled for Wednesday at noon in front of University Hall—to increase awareness of the Faculty decision.
“We’ve had an awful lot of people including alumni and Faculty saying we’re really outraged about this decision and we’d like to know what you’re doing about it,” Kutcher said. “The rally is a chance to get these people to come out and...to show the University that students are not happy with this decision.”
Coalition members said they have been pleased with President Lawrence H. Summers’ response on the issue.
At a Dunster House study break last Wednesday, Summers said that sexual assault cannot be tolerated on campus.
“The place we have to start on this is that sexual violence is as inimical or more inimical to every value that this community stands for as any offense,” Summers said. “In situations where due process will permit an outcome, we should pursue that outcome. There’s no question which side of the issue we all need to be on.”
—Staff writer Anne K. Kofol can be reached at email@example.com.