Burden of Proof

In a year when the Faculty voted to require more evidence before the Ad Board would investigate sexual assault complaints, the University itself has been forced to prove its case.

And this April—independent of the Leaning Committee—College administrators recommended to the Faculty that those controversial three words, “independent corroborating evidence,” be removed from the Handbook for Students altogether.

At a May 20 meeting, the Faculty will vote on whether to officially soften this language from a requirement of independent evidence to a request that students “provide as much information as possible to support their allegations.”

The new handbook definition proposed to the Faculty also does not predicate the initiation of an investigation “based on information provided at the time of the complaint” as it did before, but says that “based on information obtained through investigation” the Board will decide whether to hear a peer dispute case.

If the Faculty approves this wording change as they rubber-stamped the Ellison committee’s recommended wording a year ago, the Ad Board policy on sexual assault will have come almost full circle in one year—at least in phraseology.

And despite the Leaning committee’s strong advocation of a separate office and revamped education program, CASV members say the protest, committees, votes and countless discussions of the last year mean nothing while the recommendations are only ink on paper.


“We are at a turning point in terms of Harvard seeming to really be serious about combatting this problem head on for the first time,” Levit-Shore says. “Yeah, I am building sand castles but this is just a report.”

While Lewis has remained mostly silent on the issue of sexual assault since setting the Leaning Committee off on its year-long exploration of the policy, in the past he has questioned the Ad Board’s ability to ever successfully adjudicate sexual assault complaints.

And Lewis says that after eight years as dean, he considers sexual assault one of the most difficult issues—especially in light of the media attention and the OCR investigation—he has had to deal with in the College.

There is no easy answer, he says.

On May 20, if the Faculty votes for the recommendations, it will be up to an as-yet-unappointed advisory committee and the College to ensure that the Leaning committee’s theories on the sexual assault policy are implemented.

Then, the committee and CASV members will see whether the new wave of energy to deal with this complex problem fades away as yet another committee report collecting dust or whether the tumult of this year will be the first step towards providing students like Jane with answers.