At Ed School, University Title IX Coordinator, Panelists Discuss Sexual Violence Awareness

University Title IX coordinator Mia Karvonides enumerated the ways in which Title IX regulations and recommendations provide a “toolkit” for addressing sexual violence policy and prevention in K-12 education during a public event at the Graduate School of Education Tuesday.

Director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Alicia Oeser, Graduate School of Education lecturer Richard Weissbourd, and 2012 School of Education graduate Tim H. Argetsinger also fielded questions from attendees about the implementation of policies and dismantling rape culture.

Karvonides spoke to a crowd of 40 during her keynote address about her administrative and legal experience in analyzing sexual assault and harassment policy, which she described as “a complex and difficult area.”

While Karvonides said the media often focuses on sexual assault at the post-secondary education level, her goal is to encourage people “to take a broader view of these issues.”

Her address came a day after the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released a question-and-answer document about what Title IX requires of school officials and administrators while the White House task force on sexual assault launched a new website to provide additional resources.

Karvonides emphasized that educators need to understand the anti-discriminatory act and guidance documents in order to effectively form policies. And when those policies are created, she said she could not “stress enough” that information and conversations need to be age-appropriate.

In addition, Karvonides repeatedly conveyed the role that data must play in any policy.

"If your school has data about your student population, that's fabulous,” she said. “If they don't, I would encourage you to advocate for collecting data to better understand your student population.”

After providing her recommendations, Karvonides and the other panelists answered questions about how to best begin a conversation about sexual assault and empower students to be vocal.

Oeser said one of the first steps is getting the administration to understand the significance of existing problems and to create an institutionalized response to them. She also emphasized the role of peer education.

“Peer culture is really important…. Part of the reason it is hard for us to have a significant conversation is because it’s not happening at a peer-to-peer level,” Oeser said.

Even so, Argetsinger, speaking from his experience as a hotline counselor for a rape crisis center, said individuals can be discouraged from speaking up by a repeated lack of responses.

"People who are survivors are really aware that peers who have spoken out in the past have received no justice,” Argetsinger said.

While panelists often kept their discussion of policy, resources, and prevention not specifically tied to Harvard, Kimberly P. Fernandes, a School of Education student and co-organizer of the event, said that their conversation is an “important starting point” to responding to growing concern over the University’s policies.

The dialogue with Karvonides follows increased campus dialogue on sexual assault in recent weeks. In response to a Title IX complaint submitted last month by at least one member of the undergraduate organization Our Harvard Can Do Better, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights confirmed this week that it will be opening an investigation into the College’s handling of sexual assault cases.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.