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After administrators increased its funding and more than doubled its staff, Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response has experienced heavy demand for its now-expanded services, leaving the office stretched to full capacity, just as it was last year, according to director Alicia Oeser.
Last spring, amid controversy over Harvard’s handling of sexual assault, University President Drew G. Faust accepted a presidential task force’s recommendations that Harvard increase support for OSAPR, which offers counseling and sexual assault prevention resources. At the time, Steven E. Hyman, a former University provost who chairs the task force, requested that the University provide OSAPR with more resources, arguing that an “understaffed OSAPR risks slow or ineffective responses to students who have experienced sexual assault.”
After receiving an increase in funding, OSAPR has filled three new staff positions since last summer—an administrative assistant, education specialist, and survivor advocate—and designated a prevention specialist, who previously worked part-time, as full-time, according to Oeser.
A key part of the expansion has included increased access for graduate students to OSAPR resources. Christopher M. Gilbert, the prevention specialist, will split his time equally between the College and graduate schools, and recently-hired education specialist Seth Avakian works full time with graduate and professional schools. OSAPR’s second education specialist, Meera Seshadri, will focus on the College, Oeser said.
“By and large we just didn't have the staff to do that,” Oeser said, referring to education resources that have now expanded to Harvard’s graduate schools. “That’s been a really significant change in our capacity.”
Much of the new University education specialist’s time, Oeser said, has been dedicated to developing relationships with affiliates at Harvard’s graduate schools.
But because the introduction of these resources at both the College and University as a whole has been met with an increased demand for OSAPR’s services, Oeser said the office continues to operate at capacity, as it has in the past.
“Resources are a thing that, I think, will always be in demand, and our job is really to do the best with what we have and find ways to actively engage the community,” she added.
Herman K. Bhupal ’16, the vice president of Consent, Assault Awareness, and Relationship Educators, an OSAPR-sponsored student group, said the office’s expanded staff has meant that more assistance is available for students seeking help.
“That’s definitely been helpful...for all student groups that meet with OSAPR,” Bhupal said.
Despite increased outreach efforts to student groups and the recent news that Dartmouth plans to institute four-year sexual assault training programming for its students, Oeser said OSAPR would not institute a similar measure at Harvard without the broad support of students first pushing for the measure.
The administration’s decision to increase funding for OSAPR came as the federal government was investigating Harvard’s Title IX compliance at the Law School and the College. While the Law School investigation has concluded, the probe at the College remains ongoing; Oeser said this week that OSAPR has not been directly involved in either investigation.
Hyman could not be reached for comment.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.
—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.
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