Rally Protests Sexual Assault Policy Change

Students, faculty voice demands for reversal of recent decision

More than 150 students and faculty demanded at a rally yesterday that Harvard reverse its recent decision to tighten the standards for sexual assault investigations by the College’s Administrative Board.

Against a back-drop of brightly colored posters bearing slogans such as “our voices will not be silenced,” “rape happens at Harvard” and “Harvard, wake up and make some changes,” Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) members and professionals in the field of sexual assault prevention berated the recent procedural change as a step backwards in the University’s sexual assault policy.

“Rape happens at Harvard and what does Harvard do? Harvard buries its head in the sand,” said Andrea Lee, president of Boston NOW, a women’s advocacy organization. “Harvard demonstrates for students that they don’t care very much for students’ safety.”

Many of the speakers stressed that they feel the new provision, which requires corroborating evidence before the Ad Board proceeds with a sexual assault investigation, will create a more hostile environment for victims of sexual assault.

“The question is what is the Ad Board doing to make sure people feel safe in coming forward,” said CASV member Matthew E. Kutcher ’02.

Assistant Dean of the College Karen E. Avery ’87 said the change was meant to save students from a fruitless three-month process if an investigation is solely based on “he-said-she-said” statements.

“We would like to spare students the pain of pursuing an irresolvable conflict,” Avery said. “If there is any chance independent facts can be discovered by continuing the investigation, the case will go forward.”

In advance of the protest, which had been widely publicized via e-mail, the University distributed a question-and-answer fact sheet about the procedural change over House e-mail lists Tuesday night.

“Every previous case in which the Board has determined that a rape occurred would have passed the new evidentiary threshold,” the fact sheet read.

But Margaret C. Anadu ’03, who co-chaired this spring’s Take Back the Night week, contested this claim.

“It’s really unfair and completely deceitful for them to say all of those cases would have been heard,” she said. “I think it’s disgusting, I think it’s dishonest.”

And while University officials say the change is aimed at making victims’ expeences less traumatic, Kutcher said students are already aware of what the Ad Board can offer them—and that the change amounted to making students’ choices for them.

“This is not a process you’re subjected to,” he said. “The investigation happens when you come forward...It’s not that we’re being duped into going to the Ad Board.”

CASV member Madeleine S. Elfenbein ’04 said she does not believe administrators’ expressions of concern over sexual assault on campus are enough.

“[University President Lawrence H.] Summers and the administration are almost too eager to express their growing concern over this problem on campus,” Elfenbein said.

She cited a University Health Services statistic from its survey two years ago in which 52 students said they were sexually assaulted that year. She also cited the two sexual assault cases that went before the Ad Board in that year.

“So wake up Harvard, what happened to the other 50?” Elfenbein said. “We’ve got 50 to 80 students [who committed sexual assault] walking around enjoying the perks of this campus... Harvard is failing its students.”

Lisa C. Lightbody ’03, a CASV member who also spoke at the rally, said the main objective of the rally was to mobilize the Faculty to overturn the change, which was made official last week when the full Faculty passed a revised Handbook for Students that included the new Ad Board policies.

“If we can’t get it to be overturned we would like it to be tabled until further discussion has taken place,” Lightbody said.

Lightbody also said that while the rally mostly focused on criticizing the administration for its sexual assault policy, it was also meant to “more publicly highlight” commitments Summers made in the past week both in private and in public to improve preventive education on sexual assault.

“That’s something that the people who run the freshmen orientation programs do but I’ve conveyed that I think it’s very important that we strengthen education in this area,” Summers said in an interview yesterday.

Summers first addressed sexual assault on campus at a study break in Dunster House last week. He has also met with CASV members and has another meeting scheduled with the student group next Tuesday.

“We just want to make sure that he follows through,” Lightbody said.

At next Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, Professor of the History of Science Katharine Park will propose the formation of a task force to reexamine the University’s sexual assault policy.

—Staff writer Anne K. Kofol can be reached at kofol@fas.harvard.edu.