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At Office Hours, Faust Fields Questions About Sexual Assault

University President Drew G. Faust opened up her office to student visitors for an hour on Monday, and a group of undergraduates used the meeting to approach her with concerns about sexual assault at Harvard and the results of the sexual climate survey that Faust herself deemed “deeply troubling.”

Faust will hold student office hours just four times this school year, according to a schedule posted to Harvard’s website, and one session is set for the Longwood Medical Area across the Charles. On Monday afternoon, several students from Our Harvard Can Do Better, an anti-sexual assault advocacy group, took advantage of the infrequent opportunity to discuss the climate surrounding sexual assault at Harvard with Faust, who has made the issue a recent priority of her presidency.

Drew G. Faust
University President Drew G. Faust listens to comments during an open forum following the release of results of the sexual conduct climate survey last month.

According to Drisana M. Mosaphir ’17, a member of the group, students asked Faust about sexual assault training for students, staff, and faculty at the College.

Specifically, they asked if these College affiliates could be trained not only to advocate consensual sex, but also to inform students about the logistics surrounding sexual assault response at Harvard. That would include familiarizing students with the role of the centralized Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution—which investigates complaints—and the reporting process, as well as which resources offer students confidentiality, Mosaphir wrote in an email.

Results of a recent survey on sexual assault at Harvard, released late last month, showed that a majority of Harvard student respondents were not at all or only a little bit knowledgeable about what happens when a student reports an incident of sexual assault or misconduct. The survey demonstrated that many students distrust Harvard’s response to sexual assault on campus.

Sexual Misconduct at Harvard and Other Schools
Slightly more than 29 percent of surveyed Harvard senior women—a category which includes some students in the Division of Continuing Education—reported that they had experienced nonconsensual penetration and sexual touching since coming to college. The rate was 27.2 across all 27 schools that participated in the Association of American Universities survey. When Harvard DCE students were removed, the prevalence rate of nonconsensual penetration and sexual touching rose from 29.2 percent to 31.2 percent of Harvard respondents, according to a report from former Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman.

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In addition to discussing resources and training with Faust, Mosaphir said the group of students called for greater levels of student input into Harvard’s own sexual assault policies, asking for a student policy review committee that could clear up confusion about Harvard’s protocols.

“We've found that a lot of the language in [Harvard’s policies] is difficult for students without prior background in law… or the necessary time to digest a long document to understand,” Mosaphir wrote in an email.

In the past, students—including members of Our Harvard Can Do Better—have criticized administrators for what they argued was insufficient inclusion of student voices in the policymaking process.

Faust’s reactions to the student group’s concerns, Mosaphir said, were generally positive. But Mosaphir added that she would have preferred to have had a more concrete discussion about improving Harvard’s handling of sexual assault.

“While it was good to receive validation on some of our thoughts, we feel that students would also benefit from knowing what actions will be taken,” she wrote.

Overall, though, both Faust and Mosaphir said they found the office hour a beneficial experience.

In her monthly interview with The Crimson Tuesday, Faust said she “greatly benefited” from the exchange with the student group. She hopes to increase transparency about sexual assault and student resources at Harvard, Faust added, through both a “communications campaign” and meetings with student groups like Our Harvard Can Do Better.

“I will be having more meetings with individual groups around campus just to listen and hear and emphasize how important these issues are,” Faust said.

The College is currently under federal investigation into its compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX, after Our Harvard Can Do Better filed a complaint with the Department of Education.

—Staff writers Theodore R. Delwiche and Mariel A. Klein contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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