Working Group Convened To Evaluate University Assault Policies

Harvard’s inaugural Title IX coordinator Mia Karvonides has convened a University-wide working group of individuals from various Schools and offices to “consider options” for sexual misconduct policies and procedures on campus.

The group, composed of individuals from across Harvard, will evaluate both School-specific and University-wide policies in an effort to ensure that Harvard’s practices conform to federal Title IX regulations.

The group’s members met for the first time this month and will meet periodically over the summer, Karvonides wrote in an email to The Crimson. Karvonides, who worked as a federal civil rights attorney before coming to Harvard earlier this semester, added that it is too early to tell what form the group’s recommendations and conclusions will take.

This step is part of an ongoing investigation of sexual assault policies and practices across the University. In spring 2010, the Office of the Assistant to the President began collecting data and reviewing policies to evaluate Harvard’s adherence to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits sexual harassment and broader gender-based discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding.

The endeavor became more relevant when the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released an April 2011 Dear Colleague letter outlining stricter guidelines for university sexual misconduct policies.

As peer institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and Yale University modify their standards of evidence required to prove guilt in a sexual misconduct case, Harvard has faced increased pressure from students and faculty to reevaluate its sexual assault policy.

In fall 2010, New England School of Law professor Wendy J. Murphy filed a federal complaint claiming that Harvard Law School was failing to comply with Title IX mandates, launching an ongoing 2011 investigation by the Office of Civil Rights.

Students have also joined the push. In November, a referendum on the Undergraduate Council presidential election ballot calling for Harvard’s sexual assault policy to be reconsidered passed with 85 percent of the vote.

Kate Sim ’14, founder of the student group Our Harvard Can Do Better, called the occurrence of the working group’s first meeting “promising.”

Our Harvard Can Do Better, a student campaign that describes its mission as “dismantling rape culture at Harvard,” advocates for the College to change its sexual assault policy to one of affirmative consent and clarify what it means to be mentally incapacitated in a sexual assault case, among other demands. The group also calls on Harvard to “actively engage” students in any such review, according to its website.

“It’s an exciting time for Harvard along with other peer institutions to be working on [sexual] assault policy that really needs to be revised and set up to date,” Sim said.

The working group convened by Karvonides will solicit feedback from faculty, students, and staff across the University before bringing any proposals for policy changes to the School-level deans, Karvonides wrote in an email to the Council of Deans, a group composed of the heads of each School.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at nkansra01@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @Nikita.Kansra.

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