The Undergraduate Council has formed a task force to involve students in the discussion on Harvard’s sexual assault policies in response to a first-person, anonymous op-ed published in The Crimson describing the author’s experience as the victim of an alleged sexual assault, UC leaders said Monday.
The group, which any UC representative can voluntarily join, will collaborate with the student activist organization Our Harvard Can Do Better, which advocates for changes to Harvard’s sexual assault policy. Emphasizing that the UC wishes to “complement” the work already being done by Our Harvard Can Do Better, UC Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 said the task force will advocate for demands similar to those of the group.
Goffard and UC President Gus A. Mayopoulos '15 created the UC task force to evaluate revisions to the current College policy, they said, prompted by the publication of the article “Dear Harvard: You Win” in The Crimson’s opinion section. The article details administrators’ response to the author’s experiences in the aftermath of the alleged assault. The author, who reports being discouraged from opening a case before the Administrative Board, criticizes the University’s policies in the piece, calling them “outdated and narrow in scope.”
Goffard said Monday that he was “taken aback” and “disturbed” by the scenario depicted in the piece. Goffard and Mayopoulos sent emails to various administrators urging them to read it on Monday.
Mayopoulos said that UC leaders are soliciting membership for the task force and that representatives have already expressed significant interest. According to Mayopoulos, the task force will meet regularly with student activist groups and work with administrators “to make sure the student voice is always heard” on the issue. Goffard and Mayopoulos said that they had already discussed the College’s sexual assault policy with administrators and student activists earlier this year.
According to Goffard, the UC task force will ask that the University clarify the current policy’s use of the language “mental incapacitation” that renders one unable to give consent; request that Harvard adopt a policy of “affirmative consent”; and advocate to ease the process of petitioning an Ad Board hearing in sexual assault cases. The first two points are among the six main demands outlined on the Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign’s website.
The UC task force’s formation follows several administrative efforts to evaluate the University’s compliance with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual harassment in federally-funded education programs. In spring 2013, Harvard appointed Mia Karvonides to serve as its first-ever University-wide Title IX officer, and later that semester, she convened a University-wide working group to evaluate Harvard’s sexual assault policies.
And just this fall, the College appointed its first Title IX coordinators, roughly a year after 85 percent of undergraduate voters in the 2012 UC presidential election supported a reconsideration of the College’s sexual assault policies. That became the official stance of the UC.
In interviews Monday, UC leaders criticized what they characterized as a lack of student input on the evaluation of the University-wide policies.
Goffard said he was “a little upset” that students have not been more involved in the process, and Mayopoulos deemed it “a mistake” on the part of the University not to solicit more student input.
Emily M. Fox-Penner ’17, an organizer for the Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign, applauded past and present efforts of the UC in an emailed statement.
“Given Harvard's shunning of student input on policy, despite the fact that this policy primarily affects us, we think that the formation of this UC working group is an important step as it provides some formal acknowledgement of the wide consensus among students that current policy needs to change and that student and survivor experience should inform these changes,” Fox-Penner wrote.
Goffard said he and Mayopoulos will discuss changes to the sexual assault policy in a previously scheduled meeting with Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister this Friday and plan to speak with representatives from Our Harvard Can Do Better later this week.
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.