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Critics who have lodged a federal complaint against Harvard’s new sexual assault policy filed new papers in their case last week, accusing the University of attempting to subtly spin the meaning of the new procedures.
In a policy change that sparked the complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last spring, administrators announced a requirement of “sufficient corroborating evidence” before the College’s Administrative Board would hear a sexual assault case.
But now, official Ad Board documents refer to the requirement as “supporting information”—a change of phrasing which, critics say, is an attempt to make the policy sound “watered down.”
The changed wording first appeared on the University’s website in December.
The new filings came from student members of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) and Wendy B. Murphy, the lawyer who represents the anonymous student who filed the complaint.
The complaint argues that the new policy violates Title IX.
Murphy and CASV members said the change in wording prompted their response.
“There appears to be an effort to make it sound a bit watered down,” Murphy said. “It’s irrelevant whether they call it corroboration or supporting information. What matters is whether the word of a woman is sufficient.”
In their separate memos, both CASV and Murphy focused on the requirement of evidence before a sexual assault case can be heard—what Murphy called the “inherent” inequality in the new University policy.
“Even though the language has been changed to appear softer, the basic intent of the policy change remains: requiring a higher level of initial evidence in sexual assault cases before launching a full investigation,” the CASV memo read.
The memos also supported the original complaint, which said the new procedure discriminates against the mostly female victims of sexual assault.
“We’re reiterating the fact that there are cases in which there might not be corroborating evidence, such as when the victim is raped in her own room and doesn’t tell anyone,” the student complainant said in an interview.
The University submitted a response to this complaint in September that detailed its sexual assault policy, including the Ad Board procedure and available resources, and restated the University’s commitment to handling sexual assault cases fairly.
The CASV response also criticizes Harvard’s current resources and education policies.
Murphy’s response compares Harvard’s new “peer dispute” policy with Harvard’s policies on other forms of discrimination and harassment, specifically those based on race and sexual orientation.
“Harvard’s policies and procedures for initiating, fully investigating, and adjudicating other forms of discrimination, even between peers, demand nothing more from students than the word of the victim,” Murphy’s memo read.
The University General Counsel’s office could not be reached for comment.
Also this week, CASV members expressed concerns, later calmed, that that the College’s replacement of Assistant Dean Karen H. Avery ’87 had been overly hasty.
—Staff Writer Sarah M. Seltzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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