Kavulla Is wrong: Ad Board Is Not a Court of Law

Letters to the Editors

While we are glad to see that Crimson columnist Travis R. Kavulla ’06 is addressing the issue of sexual violence on Harvard’s campus, it is unfortunate that he has misrepresented the positions held by the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) in his most recent column (“Rape and Non-Rapists,” Feb. 10).

We certainly agree with Kavulla that convicted sex offenders should receive harsher punishments from the University than Harvard tends to give out, but his other claims about our positions miss their mark. His assertion that CASV is encouraging the Ad Board to lower its standards of “evidence” is based on the irrational comparison between a school disciplinary board and a criminal court. Our contention is that Harvard must not simply refuse to investigate the serious charges of sexual assault or sexual harassment because the cases seem to be complex; it has taken a great deal of work to get the Administrative Board to come to an appreciation of this point and retract its “corroboration rule.”

But more fundamental is Kavulla’s misunderstanding of the role of campus disciplinary procedures. Universities create their own standards of conduct based not solely on criminal law, but also on the mission and vision it seeks to uphold. There are many actions that would not be considered illegal in the criminal justice system, or would not result in incarceration but still undermine the community values that Harvard has established. These cases warrant disciplinary action as a matter of both fairness and safety. As A Student’s Guide to the Administrative Board states, “The procedures of the Administrative Board are designed to achieve ends different from those of criminal and civil litigation. While a court of law may only be interested in establishing innocence or guilt, the board is interested in the larger educational, developmental, and community implication of student conduct.”

Harvard also has an added responsibility to provide services and support to survivors, and that includes establishing a safe and confidential method for reporting and pursuing disciplinary recourse against their attackers. Kavulla would sacrifice this responsibility in order to ape criminal justice procedure (which he feels would “encourage” survivors to report the crimes committed against them)—a move that would be as inappropriate as it would be ineffective in a campus setting.

Especially when considering the issue of sexual assault, we must move beyond the strict binary of legal and illegal. There are many acts of sexual assault that may not be judged by a court to warrant incarceration, but which nevertheless are quite serious and cannot be condoned. Harvard’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for it students requires it to enforce its standards and to remove potentially dangerous individuals from our community—regardless of whether that person’s actions fall precisely within the various legal definitions of convictable offenses.

Alisha C. Johnson ’04

Tazneen R. Shahabuddin ’06

Feb. 15, 2004

The writers are board members of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence.