Faculty To Revisit Assault Policy
Last year’s change required that complainants in peer disputes provide “sufficient corroborating evidence” before the Administrative Board would agree to hear the case.
But under the policy proposed to Faculty this week, students involved in these cases would only be required to provide “as much information as possible to support their allegations.”
“Based on information obtained through investigation, the Board will decide whether to pursue the complaint,” the proposed language reads.
Though the suggested policy does not stipulate who would conduct such an investigation, a report released last week by the Leaning Committee—charged with examining sexual assault at the College—recommended that a “Single Fact Finder” should look into allegations of sexual assault brought before the Ad Board.
Last year, when he recommended the shift in the Ad Board’s policy, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 said that the Board—which consists of Senior Tutors and other administrators—was not equipped to deal with “he-said-she-said” sexual assault cases.
“I want to encourage women to take cases to the criminal justice system where something can be done,” Lewis said in an interview last year. “We don’t have forensic laboratories, we don’t have subpoenas.”
According to Lewis, the Faculty is slated to vote on the change to the policy’s wording as part of an annual reapproval of the Handbook for Students on May 20.
While campus activists celebrated the proposed change as a shift towards a less-strict policy that would encourage more sexual assault victims to come forward, administrators yesterday portrayed the change to the Handbook as merely codifying a shift in policy that was posted on the Ad Board’s website last fall.
At that time, the wording of the peer dispute policy posted on the Ad Board’s website was changed from requiring “sufficient corroborating evidence” to “supporting information”—a shift which is formalized by the change to the Handbook, according to Lewis.
“The changes to the Handbook in this area are not substantial—they are intended to bring the Handbook language in line with the language that has been used since last summer (on our website, among other places), since we realized that the phraseology adopted last May and used in this year’s Handbook was interpreted by some too narrowly and legalistically,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail.
While Lewis downplayed the effect of the changes, Alexandra Neuhaus-Follini ’04-’06, a member of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV), said these changes outline a policy “pretty different than current Ad Board policy on the web.”
Last spring, an anonymous student, supported by CASV, filed a complaint with the United States Office for Civil Rights (OCR), claiming that the College’s sexual assault policy violated the civil rights granted to women by Title IX.
The OCR officially upheld Harvard’s policy, “as explained by College staff,” this winter.
Neuhaus-Follini credits the complaint to the OCR with prompting College administrators to change the policy’s wording.
“Often in the course of an investigation, lots gets resolved,” she said.
And while students acknowledge that the changed evidence requirement is a significant improvement, it is still flawed, they say.
“It my opinion it doesn’t matter what they call it,” said Ellenor J. Honig ’04. “I don’t like either way. They should take all cases no matter what.”
And Neuhaus-Follini, who said that CASV’s biggest concern has always been that each student is granted a full hearing and investigation, said this change is important.
“This seems to have the effect of granting people a more thorough investigation,” she said. “My opinion has always been that there should be no evidentiary threshold.”
But despite her optimism about the proposed changes, Nehaus-Follini said that she is hesitant to praise the policy completely.
“A fact finder is an important step but it is also important who that fact finder is,” she said.
For that, Neuhaus-Follini said they are awaiting an approval of the recommendation of the recent findings of the Leaning Committee, which will be presented to the full Faculty at its May 6 meeting.
But despite the wealth of new recommendations, Honig said that neither the changed Handbook wording nor the independent fact finder will fix Harvard’s policy entirely.
“It seems like changing the way they are looking at things,” she said. “This is slightly better, but nothing will really be resolved much unless something happens in a big way with the qualifications of the members of the Ad Board.”
—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at email@example.com.