UPDATED: November 19, 2015, at 11:05 p.m.
Bearing signs with the slogans reading, “we all deserve to be safe” and “our voices are strong and we will be heard,” undergraduates recounted experiences of sexual violence at Harvard. As students criticized administrators’ response to rape on campus, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana stood and listened.
The rally came at a time when university sexual assault prevention policies are under intense scrutiny nationally and at Harvard in particular. In July 2014, Harvard announced an overhaul to its policies. In April 2014, the federal government launched an investigation into the College’s compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX. This fall the results of a survey of undergraduates indicated levels of sexual assault at Harvard that administrators deemed “troubling.”
Undergraduates took to a megaphone in the heart of Harvard Yard to heighten the pressure on administrators to respond to sexual assaults on campus. Passing off a megaphone to speakers standing on the grass outside Mass Hall—home to central administrative offices including University President Drew G. Faust’s—several undergraduates recounted, often with detail, their experiences with sexual violence.
Viviana I. Maymi ’16, the author of a recent op-ed in The Crimson called “Here’s How I Was Raped,” spoke at the event.
“I have realized that in living my day to day life, I show courage,” said Maymi, one of the rally’s organizers. “I refuse to let that dictate my life.”
As undergraduates finished giving their accounts of jarring experiences of sexual violence, they joined the crowd in chanting, “Blame the system, not the victim.”
Rachel C. Talamo ’18, the author of a recent op-ed about sexual assault in The Crimson, said she was sexually assaulted and described how her friends failed to support her after the incident.
“We need you to listen to us when we tell you what we need,” Talamo said to the crowd.
Pausing intermittently, Megan G. Jones ’16 recited a number of anonymous submissions that depicted harrowing accounts of sexual assault and criticized how University administrators responded. As Jones recounted it, a student criticized how a College sexual assault and sexual harassment tutor responded to a report of sexual assault. Other anonymous submissions described the emotional and physical toll sexual assault had, and how their friends and supporters failed to support them.
“Sometimes when there isn’t a bomb threat I still feel unsafe,” said Andrea Ortiz ’16, another one of the rally’s organizers. “We are at war, and the battle will not be over until all of our voices are heard.”
The rally comes in the wake of the release of the University’s sexual misconduct survey, which showed that 31 percent of female College seniors surveyed had experienced some kind of sexual misconduct during their time at Harvard. The survey also found that many undergraduate respondents lacked confidence in Harvard’s response to sexual assault on campus.
“All semester, this topic has been at the forefront of the conversation,” Maymi said, but she criticized administrators for not implementing changes like the ones outlined in organizers’ petitions.
“We ask Harvard to be accountable to student and survivor voices and needs,” said Jessica R. Fournier '17, an organizer for the anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better. “They are failing to support survivors.”
Several administrators, including Khurana and Mather House Dean Luke Leafgren, attended the event. Leafgren and other speakers argued for the importance of administrators responding to student concerns, although he acknowledged that the pace of tangible change is often slow.
“It’s really important that survivors have their voice heard,” said Alicia Oeser, the director of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.