Sexual Assault Policy Unlikely To Change Soon

Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds said this week that Harvard is nowhere close to making the changes to the school’s sexual assault policy advocated in an open student referendum, regardless of whether the motion passes when voting concludes Friday.

"I think the referendum questions need a great deal of further study," Hammonds said. "Certainly, I’ve said that to the students who prepared the referendum."

The sexual assault question, one of three referendum questions on this year’s UC presidential ballot, calls for the College to revise its policies for sexual assault cases. The referendum advocates requiring “affirmative consent” to sex, specifying a definition of “mental incapacitation,” adopting more BGLTQ-inclusive language, and making the case review process more transparent.

Regardless of whether the referendum is passed, Hammonds said that the issue of adjudicating sexual assault deserves more study before the College considers adopting the proposal.

"I think people come to it with good intentions, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before it becomes the basis for changes," she said.

For UC President Danny P. Bicknell ’13, the referendum is a stepping stone to directly influence College policy—or at the very least, spur student involvement in conversations among administrators on how the College handles sexual assault cases.

"It’s a great opportunity not only to address what students are talking about now, but also to involve them in what the University is doing," he said. "The whole community is involved right now and they should be staying involved in the entire process."

The College’s policy was last revised in 2003, when Harvard eliminated a controversial requirement for "sufficient corroborating evidence" and instituted new resources and educational programs on campus.

More recently, an investigation by the U.S Department of Education Office for Civil Rights into Harvard Law School’s sexual assault policy, along with guidelines issued by the agency recommending a standard of evidence different than that of Harvard, has drawn attention to Harvard’s sexual assault policy.

This semester, a widely circulated article in the Amherst Student, the college’s student-run newspaper, in which a student said that she had been sexually assaulted and that Amherst had discouraged her from reporting it, sparked dialogue among administrators in University Hall about how well Harvard’s policies are serving its students, according to Hammonds.

"Of course whenever that kind of incident happens and there’s national attention brought to the issue of sexual assault, it gives pause to everyone to think about whether or not their own policies are meeting the needs of their own constituency and community. So I think that’s to be expected," Hammonds said.

Bicknell praised College administrators for being proactive in addressing sexual assault policies, particularly in the context of the Amherst incident.“You just never want an article like that,” he said.

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@college.harvard.edu.

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