UPDATE: April 3, 2014, at 11:54 p.m.
On the heels of a surge in campus-wide and national attention on Harvard’s current sexual assault policies, University President Drew G. Faust announced the creation of a task force focused on sexual assault and misconduct in an email to the Harvard community Thursday afternoon.
The email comes just three days after the publication of a first-person, anonymous op-ed in The Crimson, which detailed the author’s experience with sexual assault at Harvard and what she felt to be the University’s inadequate response. However, Faust wrote in the email that this announcement was the result of “consultation with deans and others over recent weeks.”
“[The task force] will develop recommendations about how Harvard can improve efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and develop insight into these issues based on input from both within and beyond our community,” Faust wrote.
The task force will be chaired by former University Provost Steven E. Hyman, a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology who, during his tenure as provost, helped oversee the creation of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.
He will be joined by 17 members of the Harvard community from across the campus, including Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul J. Barreira, the minister of Memorial Church Jonathan L. Walton, Cabot House Co-Master Stephanie R. Khurana, professors from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and several graduate schools, and two current College students, among others.
This is not the first group to be convened recently at Harvard on the topic of sexual assault. Last May, University Title IX Coordinator Mia Karvonides convened a working group tasked with evaluating whether Harvard’s current sexual assault policies met federal Title IX regulations. The charge of the new task force, however, emphasizes community awareness and prevention efforts to supplement Harvard’s “legal obligations”.
“Harvard must and will meet our legal obligations, but those obligations should not alone define Harvard’s commitment to providing an educational environment in which all students have the opportunity to thrive,” Faust wrote.
Questions the task force will be asked to consider include, “Do members of our community have a clear understanding of what sexual misconduct entails?” and, “Are faculty and other members of the Harvard community properly informed about how to help a student who reports having experienced sexual misconduct?”, according to the charge.
In an email, Hyman wrote that he was first contacted about the task force several weeks ago, explaining that he expected the group to ultimately make recommendations for ways to better prevent sexual assault.
“We simply have to find better ways to prevent these terrible incidents, and we must make sure that we provide appropriate support to students who have experienced violence and related forms of sexual misconduct.,” Hyman wrote.
At the College, where the current iteration of the debate about sexual assault originated, leaders of the Undergraduate Council and student advocates expressed mixed emotions about the extent to which undergraduates will be involved in the task force and the process by which the undergraduate task force members were selected.