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UNTIL last fall, Harvard had taken few decisive steps toward solving the perennial problem of acquaintance rape on campus. In November, following a firestorm over comments made by members of the College's Administrative Board, a committee was formed to revamp disciplinary procedures and devise a policy on date rape.
The Date Rape Task Force, composed of students, faculty and administrators, has met weekly since January to learn about Harvard's policies and educational efforts in this area, and to study Massachusetts law about rape and sexual assault. The group's meetings are not open to other students or the press.
According to Emily M. Tucker '93, the student co-chair of the committee, "a closed meeting is a really important aspect of our communication." Tucker said keeping the meetings private allows the task force's members to speak their minds. Because an informed community could make a valuable contribution to the committee's work and is likely to be more willing to accept its findings, we urge the board to adopt a more open approach.
THE composition of the date rape committee and the way in which its members were appointed also suggest that public access to its sessions would prompt useful feedback from the community.
Only one male student sits on the 19-member task force. As a result, several of its subcommittees include no members of the group most responsible for date rapes and most likely to bear the brunt of any new disciplinary process. Asked if the underrepresentation of men on the committee handicaps its efforts, Tucker said, "I don't think it's hurting our perspective at all."
Only a few men attended the meetings about date rape held during the fall, so campus men share some of the blame for the fact that only four of the 19 committee members are male, including three administrators and the only male student who applied.
These factors apparently prompted Undergraduate Council leaders to discuss setting up their own group to look into the issue.
At this point, allowing the public to be present for the board's discussions, and to benefit from the educational presentations the members have found enlightening, would be the best way to ensure that Harvard students can cast a watchful eye over the committee's procedures. We do not ask for a large, unwieldy public forum in which students could slow down the arduous process of policymaking by speaking up on every detail. But all members of the Harvard community who will be affected by these policies should at least be witness to the making of a policy which should be important to them all.
To its credit, the committee met with several dozen students at a well-publicized forum it organized last week. But this does not go far enough. As an official body appointed to forge a new policy for the College on an intensely important and controversial issue, the task force has a duty to be more open with the Harvard community.
These policies affect the entire community, including men.
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