At an open forum sponsored by the Undergraduate Council Thursday, University President Drew G. Faust announced that Harvard has submitted a revised sexual assault policy, updated to align with recent changes to federal Title IX regulations, to the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education.
If approved, the policy would mark the first time all schools within the University would be required to comply with the same set of regulations regarding sexual assault.
In addition to detailing the legal, educational, and preventive components of the University’s approach to sexual assault and misconduct on campus, Faust fielded questions on a range of issues in the forum. including student organization funding and race relations.More than 60 college students and Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister attended the event.
The updated sexual assault policy is the product of a working group convened in May 2013 to evaluate both school-specific and University-wide policies to ensure that Harvard’s practices conform to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sexual harassment and broader gender-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.
Faust's announcement about the updated policy comes after an op-ed published by The Crimson earlier this month sparked campus-wide conversation on the issue of sexual assault and Faust announced the creation of a task force focused on community awareness and prevention.
“We needed to really look hard at preventing this in the first place, and that is the responsibility of the entire Harvard community,” Faust said at the forum.
Throughout the question-and-answer period, Faust responded to a series of questions from students, many of whom belonged to student organizations that have recently demanded changes to College and University policy. Though students said they appreciated the opportunity to speak directly to the University president, some characterized her responses as vague and, at times, evasive.
In the question that prompted Faust to explain the University’s approach to sexual assault issues, Jessica R. Fournier '17, a co-organizer for Our Harvard Can Do Better, a student group devoted to reforming Harvard’s sexual assault policies, asked why undergraduates were not on the University working group on the issue that was convened last year.
Faust responded by explaining that the previous year’s working group was focused on the legal issues of sexual assault, while the recently announced task force, which includes two undergraduate students, addresses community issues of education, prevention, and support.
Still, Emily M. Fox-Penner '17, another organizer for Our Harvard Can Do Better, said that she had hoped to hear a “more concrete strategy” to involve a wide range of student voices on the issue.
On the topic of campus community, Kimiko M. Matsuda-Lawrence ’16, writer and director of the play, “I, Too, Am Harvard,” which propelled a campus-wide conversation on inclusion and identity in March, asked about the concrete changes expected from the working group announced by Pfister and his incoming successor Rakesh Khurana earlier this month.
Faust said that she predicted that the group may explore how to approach conversations during freshman orientation and the ways of building community to support diversity, such as through a multicultural center.
After the forum, Matsudo-Lawrence said she is still waiting on further details on the working group.
“We’re all just waiting to hear what the working group will be, what shape it will take, what it will actually be producing,” Matsudo-Lawrence said.