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A seemingly-routine appointment by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 drew strong words from student critics of the College’s sexual assault policy last week, evidence of the tense climate that characterizes the debate over that policy’s future.
The board of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) wrote to Lewis last Friday, expressing concern over the appointment of Julia G. Fox to replace Karen E. Avery ’87, an outgoing assistant dean of the College who handled issues of sexual assault.
The letter stated that the “unilateral” appointment of Fox would “undermine” changes that the Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard (CASAH), or the Leaning Committee, may propose in its recommendations this spring.
CASV members said that they hope the committee, charged with a comprehensive review of Harvard’s sexual assault policy, will suggest reconfiguring who handles sexual assault within the administration.
“We are worried about the process by which the decision to appoint [Fox] was reached and its implications for the efficacy and legitimacy of the [Leaning] Committee,” the e-mail read.
Because of the simultaneous anouncement of Fox’s appointment and Avery’s stepping down, coalition members say they were concerned.
As Dean of Coeducation, Avery’s duties included representing students in sexual assault hearings and coordinates the Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment tutor program.
But Lewis’ responded that Fox would not be assuming the “Dean of Coeducation” role held by Avery, and that Fox’s experience on the Leaning Committee would make her ideal to handle their recommendations.
“She will have complete insight not just as to the recommendations put forward but to the ideas that have been passed over, and the logic behind adopting some and rejecting others,” Lewis wrote on Sunday.
A University press release from Jan. 28 described Fox’s title as Assistant Dean, Director of the Ann Radcliffe Trust, and Director of Transfer and Visiting Student Programs at Harvard College.
After receiving his reply, CASV members said they were less concerned.
“We all were confused. We assumed that Dean Fox would take over the role of Dean Avery,” said Ellenor J. Honig ’04, a CASV board member. “We feel bad because we caused a stir and we didn’t realize it,” said Honig.
Other students say they initially experienced similar doubts about the position.
“The position [Dean of Coeducation] could have even more influence over women’s lives, and the search process should reflect a deeper consideration about what the post really means and how it could be more effective,” said Rebeccah G. Watson ’04, vice-president of Radcliffe Union of Students.
Watson says she now feels Lewis made the “right decision” with his appointment of Fox and feels confident that the committee is the right avenue for restructuring sexual assault resources within the administration.
Although CASV members said they are still slightly confused about how the adminstration will be configured to handle sexual assault cases, they said they are waiting for the committee’s results to understand the new administrative structure.
CASV Board member Alisha C. Johnson ’04 said that CASV was satisfied with what they understand as Dean Fox’s current position.
“As far as the responsibilties of that position as they directly relate to sexual assault,” she said. “We’ll have to reserve comment on what exactly that will entail, which will come through the Leaning Committee report.”
Fox would not comment on her appointment, but said that when she takes office in July she is looking forward to reviewing the committee results.
—Staff writer Sarah M. Seltzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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