Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Director Sarah A. Rankin recently traveled to Spain to discuss Harvard’s efforts to combat gender and sexual violence.
Rankin spoke to a group of students and activists at the Universities of Lleida and Barcelona, which are attempting to formulate sexual harassment policies and resources for women who have faced sexual violence and gender inequality.
“Culturally, the way they view the issue is really different,” Rankin said. “They’re starting from a place where I imagine we were a number of years ago.”
She said that the activists in Spain are still trying to convince university policy-makers that change is necessary—a struggle that Harvard graduate student Christopher M. Gilbert says is prevalent on American campuses as well.
“Usually you have to fight with deans and administrators to get support,” said Gilbert, who is involved with efforts on campus to raise awareness about sexual violence and inequality. But he said that Harvard has made an impressive financial commitment to supporting the goals of OSAPR and other similar groups.
Hugo Van Vuuren ’07, a member of MenSpeakUp.org’s graduate board, agreed that many schools are not as proactive as Harvard in fighting gender inequality and sexual violence. MenSpeakUp.org was founded at Harvard in 2008 to address the lack of men advocating for gender equality.
“Organizations like OSAPR and MenSpeakUp play an important role in helping individuals reevaluate their thoughts around these issues and turn passive observers of injustice into active campaigners for equality,” Van Vuuren said.
Gilbert noted that the increased participation of men has significantly advanced the movement combating gender inequality and sexual assault on American college campuses.
“Men want to learn from those around them who may be more sensitive than they are to these issues,” he said. “They are cognizant of the privilege they have and want to use that privilege to fight misogyny and sexual assault.”
Gilbert said that he was particularly impressed that members of sports teams and single-sex clubs at Harvard have been participating in the efforts. The activism of members of the football team, for example, “flies in the face of stereotypes,” he said.
Carl D. Ehrlich ’09, former captain of the Harvard football team and a volunteer with OSAPR, said he was dedicated to using his position as a campus leader to facilitate discussion on what he said is a universal issue.
“Getting involved is not an admission of guilt,” he said. “It’s being willing to step up to the forefront of the issue and getting people to see that it needs attention.”
—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at email@example.com.