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This week, the Harvard community says goodbye to student ally and support system in Sarah Rankin, director of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. As of Monday, Rankin has moved to hold the position of Title IX Investigator at MIT. With her departure, administrators are beginning to look for a new director who can fill Rankin’s shoes. We hope that this new director will build on all the crucial, outstanding work Rankin has contributed to OSAPR. We also hope this new director pushes more strongly for sexual assault policy change, which has received widespread support from the student community but has yet to be implemented by the University.
While in office, Rankin made some critical contributions and changes to OSAPR. To name a few, she created Consent, Assault Awareness, and Relationship Educators to give students an avenue to become involved in sexual assault prevention—as peer educators—in a meaningful way. She expanded victim services to the entire Harvard student community, making resources available for College and graduate school students. She revived Harvard Men Against Rape and helped the group gain visibility on campus. She expanded the scope of victim services, including free legal counsel. With the help of OSAPR prevention specialists, she also institutionalized bystander education trainings for many student groups. Crucially, these include final clubs: Last year, OSAPR trained all but two of the final clubs.
Rankin has left a strong foundation for successors to build upon. We hope the new director will, like Rankin, continually seek student input and think of innovative ways (like reaching out to final clubs) to impact the student body, and in particular to think about ways in which Harvard can improve the accessibility of its sexual assault resources to students from diverse backgrounds.
It is also our hope that the new director focus intensely on advocating for sexual assault policy change. Our Harvard Can Do Better a student campaign for sexual assault policy reform received overwhelming support for its policy demands in a student referendum last year. Among those demands are a policy of affirmative consent, clarifying the meaning of mental incapacitation, and offering comprehensive and inclusive sexual assault prevention and response training every year. The group also calls for more transparency in the administration and for clearer language that includes the LGBTQ-identifying community. These commonsense reforms have been implemented at a number of peer colleges, and they will go a long way toward creating safe social environments.
A standard of affirmative consent in particular is a change that would be critical in helping students to have more power in prosecuting assailants and in creating cultural change on campus. Despite the successes of the Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign, students have thus far lacked a strong ally in OSAPR who is willing to push for their demands. We hope that OSAPR’s new director can become that ally, and that he or she does not shy away from advocating for reform to administrators.
We salute the outstanding work that Sarah Rankin has accomplished in her seven years as OSAPR director. With a greater focus on policy reform, OSAPR can become an even stronger ally for sexual assault survivors and students working to effect change.
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