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FAS Committee on Sexual Misconduct Hosts First Community Discussion

By Steven S. Lee and Dev A. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: September 14, 2014, at 5:45 p.m.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures hosted the first in a series of discussions about sexual and gender-based harassment at Harvard on Tuesday, drawing a small crowd of students to a common room in Cabot House.

Just under 30 people, including several members of the committee, as well as a House master, a House dean, and tutors, attended the discussion.

FAS Committee Chair Alison Frank Johnson led the conversation, which mostly followed a question-and-answer format, on the new University Title IX policy and its implications for FAS.

With the University policy already in place, FAS has been operating under an interim policy developed by the committee in late summer.

The focus of the event was on the interim FAS policy and associated procedures, which include, in addition to the University-wide sexual assault policy, an introduction and FAS-specific policies, such as those relating to disciplinary action.

The discussion first touched upon the potential disciplinary consequences in the event of a policy violation. Under the recently created procedures, the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution will determine if the accused FAS affiliate violated the policy. With that information, the relevant FAS disciplinary body, such as the College’s Administrative Board, would have the authority to hand down appropriate disciplinary sanctions.

Responding to a question from a student, Johnson said that while the committee would consider requiring FAS disciplinary bodies to uphold minimum sanctions for certain violations, she personally was not in favor of such a policy.

Though FAS policy does not specify minimum sanctions for sexual harassment violations, former Ad Board Secretary John “Jay” L. Ellison said last spring that in cases of rape, the Ad Board has historically required accused students to withdraw from the school, in certain cases even recommending that the student be dismissed or expelled.

In an interview on Friday, Brett Flehinger, interim secretary of the Ad Board, said that he did not foresee any official changes from the set of sanctions that the body currently uses in handling cases of sexual assault.

Students also voiced confusion about the use of terms like violence and coercion, raising concerns about the role of the policy in clarifying and defining such language.

Amid questions and comments about the University-wide language, which makes up the bulk of the interim policy, Johnson said that there was little the FAS Committee could do to alter that language. Its influence is limited to the introductory language, definitions of relationships within the FAS community, and some procedures concerning discipline as it relates to the various FAS disciplinary bodies.

The FAS Committee on Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures was convened by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith in May to bring the FAS policy on sexual harassment in line with the University-wide Title IX policy. The FAS Committee will meet for the first time this academic year on Thursday and will host five more open discussions over the course of the next month.

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

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: September 14, 2014

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Alison Frank Johnson.

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