Our Harvard Can Do Better Teaches, Recruits Students at Teach-In

UPDATED: April 10, 2014, at 8:25 p.m.

Less than a week after members announced they had filed a federal Title IX complaint against the University, organizers from Our Harvard Can Do Better, a student group advocating for modifications to Harvard’s sexual assault policy, held a teach-in event Wednesday.

The event aimed to educate students about Title IX, the rights that it grants, and the alleged problems with the Harvard’s current policies, as well as enlist interested students in the group’s cause.

The teach-in follows more than a week of campus discussion regarding sexual assault, including the creation of a University task force on the issue. Although the specifics have not been detailed, changes to the University’s Title IX policy are expected to reach completion soon, following the creation of a task force last spring.

Addressing a crowd that included the Undergraduate Council president and vice president and about 50 undergraduate and graduate students, group leaders discussed the legal components of Title IX and briefed attendees on the College’s current sexual assault policies. They then described how student activism might help eliminate perceived inconsistencies between Title IX and the College’s treatment of sexual assault, as well as modify stipulations related to issues of consent and the burden of proof required in cases brought before the College’s Administrative Board.

Emily M. Fox-Penner '17, an organizer for Our Harvard Can Do Better, outlined nine items about Title IX that she said everyone should know. Among these were the points that schools receiving federal funding are required to inform students and administrators of policies, cannot influence a student’s course of action in cases, and may not retaliate in any way against a complaint filersomething Fox-Penner said she thinks is “unfortunately...a reality” in many cases.

As it stands, Harvard is the only Ivy League university to uphold a policy based on negative consent, group organizer Pearl Bhatnagar ’14 said. Yale, for example, requires affirmative consent, or a “positive, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity,” according to its Equal Opportunity Programs policy.

“Ultimately, [Harvard’s] definition obscures issues of violence by placing the burden on the survivor,” Bhatnager said. “The top reason why survivors don’t come forward...is because they feel that their sexual assaults are not sexual assaults enough.”

Organizers said they hope to expedite the pace of changes to the sexual assault policy and push for consistency across the University's various schools. To depict what they say are difficulties in effecting policy change, they drew a large flow chart of various campus administrators on the room’s chalkboard.

Still, organizer Kate Sim ’14 said that modifications to sexual assault policy have historically resulted from student advocacy. She pointed specifically to the creation of the Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention in 2003.

Sim also expressed her frustration with what she alleges amounts to the refusal of administrators to assume responsibility for appropriate action against perpetrators of sexual violence.

“I don’t want to go to school with rapists and abusers, where I know administrators are knowingly allowing [them] to complete their education,” she said.

Mira S. Hayward ’17, who attended the event, said she was excited to get involved with further efforts of Our Harvard Can Do Better.

“I really don't want this to be something that is pushed to the side because people think that it is being addressed," Hayward said.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

—Staff Writer Joanna R. Schacter can be reached at joanna.schacter@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaSchacter.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 10, 2014

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Title IX complaint against the College by members of Our Harvard Can Do Better was filed last week. In fact, the complaint was announced last week but filed on March 28.

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