Federal Recommendations May Be in Tension with Harvard’s Handling of Sexual Assault

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The Department of Education documents were released alongside the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault’s concrete recommendations for colleges in preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus. The task force recommends that schools develop a “climate survey” on sexual assault on campus and students’ awareness on this issue, among other points in the report.

The White House report also addressed the issue of student input in a checklist for sexual misconduct policies. In that checklist, the task force recommended that schools “[i]dentify key stakeholders—particularly students, concerned student groups…—whose expertise and input should be incorporated into the drafting process.”

The recently-submitted revised policy that Faust announced two weeks ago is the result of a working group, convened last May by University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides to evaluate Harvard’s policies and those policies’ compliance with Title IX.

Since the creation of that working group last May, some student activists have raised concerns over the level of student input solicited for the policy evaluation. Though no undergraduates sit on the policy working group, Neal wrote in an emailed statement that Karvonides has had meetings with “students who wanted to talk first hand about their experiences, advocates, and the previous [Undergraduate Council] leadership” since she took her position in spring 2013.

“She has kept these conversations and other sources about student views in mind as she has approached the work of the policy working group,” Neal wrote.

Faust announced the formation of a presidential task force on sexual misconduct, to be chaired by former University Provost Steven E. Hyman, in early April. Though three students—two of them undergraduates—will sit on that task force, the group is not charged with making any policy change decisions.

Kate J. Sim ’14, an organizer for the student activist campaign Our Harvard Can Do Better, said she hopes that the White House report will put pressure on Harvard to involve more student voice.

“I certainly hope that federal pressure will encourage Harvard to be proactive about creating a safer and a more just campus,” said Sim, who has also been involved with Title IX-related advocacy at the national level. But Sim added that she is “cautiously optimistic about the direction Harvard will be taking” considering the actions of peer institutions, such as Tufts.

OCR determined this week that Tufts’s policies were in violation with Title IX, and Tufts then released a statement on its website saying that “the department’s recently announced finding has no basis in law.”

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.


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