Karvonides Clarifies ‘Unwelcome Conduct’ Standards

University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides said the Title IX office has “fallen short” when it comes to transparency over Harvard’s sexual conduct policies, which some students said were unclear at a town hall Tuesday evening.

Title IX Town Hall
Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides explains Harvard University policy concerning unwelcome sexual contact at a town hall hosted by the UC Tuesday evening. Karvonides later answered questions from students and undergraduate council members.

In her presentation on Harvard’s recently revamped sexual assault policy, Karvonides highlighted Harvard’s standards on “unwelcome conduct”—central to the policy's definition of sexual harassment—through hypothetical case studies. Specifically, she said welcomeness cannot be assumed between partners in the absence of a “no,” or through clothing, gender, race, or sexual orientation.

During a period for student questions about unwelcome conduct standards, some undergraduates argued that the policies are inaccessible and poorly publicized. Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19, who attended the panel hosted by the Undergraduate Council, said the concept of unwelcome conduct is likely unclear to a majority of undergraduates.

Responding to Goldberg, Karvonides said the Title IX office has “fallen short” with regards to being clear and public about the University’s policies with its students.

In recently released results from Harvard’s sexual conduct climate survey, a majority of Harvard student respondents—71 percent—said they were not at all or only a little bit knowledgeable about what happens when a student reports an incident of sexual assault or misconduct.

The results also showed just 15 percent of surveyed students said they were very or extremely knowledgeable about how sexual assault and misconduct are defined at Harvard; 21 percent said they were not at all knowledgeable.

“Unfortunately our folks were not out enough, and we were not able to do enough messaging,” Karvonides said. Karvonides added that her office has recently released brochures on unwelcome conduct standards to better publicize the relatively new policies.

The Title IX Office previously released a set of Frequently Asked Questions last October in an effort to clarify its policies, but student activists criticized them for being “totally inaccessible.”

The town hall comes amid fervent discussions at Harvard about the rate of campus sexual assault and the response from University personnel.

In the past, students have criticized Harvard administrators, arguing that poor handling of reported sexual assaults have caused trauma among victims. Laila M. Smith ’17, who also attended the event, said that while raising awareness for the policies was needed, it wasn’t enough.

“We need to be aware of the policy because nobody knows what this is or how this process works, but we also need a huge effort of survivor advocacy and survivors spaces,” Smith said. “What the Title IX office is thinking about is the entire situation and what survivors are crying out for is someone to validate them on an institutional level.”

Just last week, recent graduate Alyssa R. Leader ’15 filed a lawsuit against Harvard alleging that administrators mishandled her claim of sexual assault. Cabot House, Leader’s former undergraduate residence, held an off-the-record conversation on sexual assault earlier this week.

Members of the Undergraduate Council hosted Tuesday's event, which Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, interim Dean of Student Life Thomas A. Dingman ’67, and Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris attended.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at ignacio.sabate@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter@ignacio_sabate.

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