Harvard Sexual Assault Office To Close for July

Financial constraints cause temporary shutdown; administrators, students disappointed—'We rely on them'

The Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, which provides confidential support and counseling for students who have been sexually harassed or assaulted at the College, will close for the month of July due to financial constraints.

Summer proctors were informed of the shutdown during their orientation Thursday—just days before hundreds of summer school students begin arriving on campus—disappointing some administrators and raising concerns among some undergraduates in proctor positions.

"It's a shame," said Christopher S. Queen, Dean of Students for Harvard Summer School, of OSAPR's closing. "That's a real shame, because we rely on them in the summer. Obviously [the students] will have other resources, but the loss of that program this summer was a disappointment to us." According to Queen, over 2,000 students will live at Harvard this summer.

Calls to OSAPR in July will instead be referred to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, wrote Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Robert P. Mitchell in an e-mailed statement. He said that during the regular academic year, weekend calls to OSAPR are forwarded to that same Center.

OSAPR Director Sarah Rankin said that ideally students in need of counsel would have someone on campus to talk to. But she added that she understood the University's rationale in making this "painful decision," and that she too hoped students' needs could be met by "piecing together all the things that will be available."

But OSAPR's temporary closing will cause difficulties that stretch beyond the summer months, Rankin said.

"There's projects we've wanted to work on that won't happen this summer—training programs to develop, communities we wanted to reach out to," Rankin said, noting that she and her Office's two other staff members also prepare for freshman orientation over the summer. "Those projects will have to be put on the backburner."

David S. Rosenthal '59, director of University Health Services, said that plans are also being discussed by College and UHS officials to close the Office of Alcohol & Other Drug Services for the month of July, although the UHS Center for Wellness will remain open. He stressed that "nothing is official and nothing has been announced" at this point in time, and also said that services that might otherwise be provided by OSAPR will be addressed by UHS Mental Health Services over the summer, as well as Harvard University Police Department.

Rosenthal said that he was not sure if OSAPR would be able to continue its 24-hour confidential helpline—a service that Rankin said she largely maintains by herself—and that he was not sure what costs savings would be achieved by closing the Office in July.

Rankin said that while OSAPR is certainly far less active during the summer than the normal school year, "we've never had a summer where no people use it at all."

84 Harvard students called or came to OSAPR's Holyoke Center offices during the 2007-2008 academic year, according to the office's Web site.

Queen said he knew OSAPR to be "pretty busy" historically during the summer, since the Office handles harassment and other confidential cases as well as actual assault.

Rosenthal said he hoped that the effects of OSAPR's closing would "not be seen and that there won't be consequences," noting that before OSAPR's establishment in 2003, sexual harassment and assault issues had been dealt with by UHS Mental Health Services.

Queen also said that he believed students would not be at risk in any way over the summer, but that it was simply unfortunate that OSAPR would not be available to support Harvard Summer School.

Despite the availability of alternative counseling resources for students, some summer proctors expressed concern about the decision.

"We don't have the professional experience to help out students when they're victims, and as a proctor, I'm uncomfortable if [sexual assault] happens and I don't have [OSAPR's] knowledge base," said Andrea R. Flores '10, a proctor and the current president of the Undergraduate Council. She said she was worried OSAPR's closing would complicate responses to sexual assault by taking away a centralized source of assistance.

"Perhaps the resources will be sufficient, but I do think it's the College's responsibility to provide sexual assault response resources, and I don't think that should be outsourced," Flores said.

Similarly, Laurel J. Gabard-Durnam '10, another proctor, said "it doesn't seem like a great idea" to close OSAPR while keeping the Wellness Center open, especially given that, based on past years, a case of sexual assault is almost "guaranteed" to happen during the summer.

She said that she did appreciate the fact that other counseling services would be available and that sexual assault helpline numbers were advertised widely and prominently across campus. But resources such as the Boston Area Rape Crisis center are "to be honest, a little far away," and could be intimidating for students unfamiliar with the area.

"It's ironic," she said. "The case they gave me interviewing for the proctoring job was a rape case, and the answer was to do this and do that, and to talk to these people. But now those offices aren't even going to be open."

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.