Although the University had recently appointed student representatives to a special committee to review the sexual misconduct policies of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, it has now decided to postpone soliciting student input in this process.
Citing a need to consult with the Office of the Assistant to the President and deans at schools across the University, OSAPR Director Sarah A. Rankin informed student members via email Thursday night that the committee would not immediately involve student participants.
Harvard’s decision to examine its sexual misconduct policies comes in the wake of a slew of complaints in the last year filed against institutions of higher education, including Harvard Law School and Yale University. Universities across the country have taken a closer look at their policies after the federal Office for Civil Rights rolled out stricter guidelines in April for handling sexual assault.
Given these recent events, Samantha A. Meier ’12, who intended to participate in the OSAPR review committee before Thursday’s reversal, called this year an “opportune time” for Harvard to take a look at its own policies.
The changes that may come out of the sexual assault policy review are still up in the air. Before learning that their involvement would be postponed, students appointed to the committee said that they hoped to discuss changing the definition of consent used by the Administrative Board and other University disciplinary bodies.
Under most legal definitions, forced sexual intercourse can be considered rape or sexual assault only when the victim said “no” or was incapable of doing so due to the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to Meier.
Meier said that she and other students on the committee hoped to push the University instead toward an “enthusiastic consent” model, in which an incident can be called rape in the absence of affirmative agreement.
“The only people who lose out in this model are the rapists,” said Lila S. Schreiber ’12, who had also intended to serve on the committee.
Meier said that she plans to discuss the stay on student involvement with Rankin, but she might eventually consider leading a “student protest” or “something more radical” than acting through administration-approved channels if she feels that student voices on this issue are not being heard.
Sexual assault policies fall under the purview of federal Title IX guidelines, a 1972 law which is most often associated with equal funding for women’s athletics but covers all types of sexual discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding.
In the April letter, the OCR mandated a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which finds a student guilty if only 51 percent of the evidence points to that verdict, in contrast to the more stringent “burden of proof” standard which many universities use in sexual assault complaints.
The guidelines also require that colleges set up a system for investigating incidents promptly.
Last week, Yale University announced changes to its sexual assault policies, after the OCR began an investigation in April into what it termed the school’s “failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus.” According to the Yale Daily News, the changes include an expanded definition of sexual misconduct, a new Committee on Sexual Misconduct to handle cases, and mandatory training for student groups.
Meier expressed her hope that Harvard will let students discuss similar changes soon.
“We all care a lot about these issues,” she said, “and we want Harvard to care about these issues and take them seriously.”
—Julie M. Zauzmer contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.