Administration Names Sexual Assault Policy Committee

Committee chair says she hopes to create more options for victims

College administrators announced yesterday the faculty members, University staff and students charged with recommending changes to the University’s resources for sexual assault victims.

The committee was created last spring in response to controversy surrounding the Faculty’s decision to require more evidence before the Administrative Board can investigate claims of sexual assault.

The committee, which will meet for the first time on Sept. 18, has not been explicitly charged with looking at ways to change the Ad Board procedure.

But Committee Chair Jennifer Leaning, professor of international health in the Faculty of Public Health, said the group will try to brainstorm ways to provide more options in the University for students who have been sexually assaulted to cope with the aftermath.

“We view the current Ad Board process as one that’s up and running,” Leaning said. “Our charge is to help make it work, help supplement it.”

The committee includes two students—Sarah B. Levit-Shore ’04 and Jared M. Slade ’03—and faculty from various departments, as well as a University Health Services psychologist and a former director of the Rape Crisis Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

Levit-Shore is a member of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, the student group that organized rallies against the Ad Board change last spring.

Slade has served as a peer educator for Peer Relations and Date Rape Education, and is Pforzheimer House’s director of the Community Health Initiative.

Slade said he was contacted by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 during the summer and asked to be part of the committee. He said he is excited for the opportunity.

“I think the College realizes that the current resources [for victims of sexual asault] need to be tweaked, else there would be no need for a committee in this form,” Slade wrote in an e-mail.

The group’s monthly meetings will culminate in April with an official recommendation on how best to change the University’s sexual assault services and education.

University Provost Steven E. Hyman said he and Lewis tried to solicit a group of faculty and students for the committee who have varying levels of knowledge of the issue and different perspectives.

“We were seeking a committee that would come from different life experiences and different intellectual environments at Harvard so the sum conversation would be deeply informed by people who understood psychology and college life,” Leaning said.

Professor of the History of Science and Dudley House Master Everett I. Mendelsohn said he was interested in being on the committee partly due to his experience as the thesis adviser to a student who had been sexually assaulted.

He said victims of sexual assault deserve all the support Harvard can provide.

“My experience at Harvard over the years has led me to recognize the need for the community to have adequate and effective ways of dealing with issues like sexual assault,” Mendelsohn said.

When the number of students who would serve on the committee was announced last spring, members of Coalition Against Sexual Violence had said two student voices were not enough. But Leaning said the committee will involve more of the student body through weekly meetings with student groups and public forums.

“We are here to create a surround sound for students here,” Leaning said. “It may wind up with us hearing a lot more about problems than before but I would consider that a success.”

In addition to public meetings, the committee will maintain a website, www.college.harvard.edu/services/leaningcommittee, and solicit e-mail suggestions.

Though the committee does not yet have a firm agenda, Leaning said she hopes it will focus first on ways to improve education about sexual violence for younger undergraduates.

Leaning said she attended the Safe Community Meeting Monday night, where first-years received general safety tips, including ways to protect themselves from sexual violence.

Coalition members have in the past criticized this meeting for being too general and cursory.

Leaning said she would like to see the education done in smaller groups, with a stronger focus on the Massachusetts state laws on sexual violence.

In addition to Leaning, Mendelsohn and the two students, the committee includes Diana L. Eck, Lowell House Master and professor of comparative religion and Indian studies; Michael R. Rodriguez, Adams House senior tutor and lecturer on psychology; Veronica Reed Ryback, former Director of the Rape Crisis Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital; James H. Ware, Cabot House Master and Mosteller professor of biostatistics in the Faculty of Public Health; Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth Studley Nathans; Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science Katharine Park; and UHS Mental Health Services psychologist Maureen Rezendes.

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