Law School Students Demand Sexual Assault Admissions Info

Harvard Law School
Austin Hall houses the Harvard Law School's admissions office.
Four Harvard Law School students are demanding that the Law School clarify how it considers applicants who have been accused or found guilty of sexual assault.

Emma K. O’Hara, Shayna Medley, Dixie C. Tauber, and Kelly Jo Popkin ’11—all third-year law students in the school’s Gender Violence Policy Workshop—published the article in the Harvard Law Record Sunday, attaching a questionnaire they sent to Law School admission officers March 30.

In both the op-ed and the questionnaire, the students ask that the admissions officials disclose the information they collect from applicants about past accusations and convictions of sexual assault. They also ask that School publicly comment on how it considers that information.

“I think we were all sort of motivated to want to do this particular topic now given that it’s admissions season,” Tauber said. “We thought that this is important information that potential incoming students would want to know. We all debated whether some of this information would have changed our opinions on whether to come to Harvard Law.”

The questionnaire was addressed to the Law School’s Jessica L. Soban ’02—an associate dean who directs the Law School’s admissions—Director Thomas E. Robinson, Associate Director Anne M. Taylor, and Assistant Director Nefyn Meissner.

Medley said the writers weren’t necessarily seeking a change in school policy, but rather increased clarity regarding the Law School’s policies.

“At a baseline we want this to be a call for transparency,” Medley said. “We recognize that we don’t have all the answers and that this is a really complex issue, but to have an administration that is at least responsive to these kind of questions.”

Prior to The Crimson reaching out to Soban on April 24, the authors had received no response to their questionnaire. On April 25, Soban responded to their initial email.

In both the response email to the students and in an emailed statement to The Crimson, Soban wrote that the admissions office takes the safety of Law School students seriously.

“In our application, we ask questions that help us to evaluate the character and fitness of applicants, not just for entry into the HLS community, but also for entry into the practice of law,” Soban wrote. “Inquiries into academic or professional misconduct or into criminal charges are undertaken in accordance with state and federal laws, which include relevant privacy statutes. We consider all information available to us, and we make admissions decisions based on that information.”

In response, O’Hara wrote in an email that they found the school’s response lacking in the concrete information they had requested.

“We put forth a call for transparency and affirmative efforts demonstrating the school takes sexual assault seriously,” O’Hara wrote. “We assume that HLS acts in compliance with state and federal law, but hope HLS will treat state and federal law as a floor, not a ceiling, on students' rights to guide the admissions process.”

Sexual assault cases and compliance have been controversial at the Law School in the past. A sexual assault complaint involving two Law School students was featured in “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary that covers sexual assault on college and university campuses. The federal government found the school in violation of Title IX in 2014, a decision that many professors at the school have criticized.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieDHalper.

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