Title IX Activists Shift Priorities

Nearly four months after launching a petition to include an affirmative consent clause in Harvard's sexual harassment policy, student activists say they will shift their focus to more actively push to ensure that the policy is clear and properly implemented, rather than only argue for its strict inclusion of affirmative consent.

When Harvard unveiled its new University-wide sexual harassment policy last year, members of Our Harvard Can Do Better, an undergraduate activist group, criticized its lack of an explicit affirmative consent clause, which would require that parties actively communicate their willingness to participate in sexual activity.

Last September, University Title IX officer Mia Karvonides defended Harvard's policy, arguing that the University’s current approach is “nuanced” and achieves the same ends as an affirmative consent standard. Still, three student advocacy groups—Our Harvard Can Do Better and two graduate student organizations—co-sponsored an online petition, launched in October, calling for the adoption of affirmative consent.

Sexual Assault Policy Meeting
University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides defended Harvard's new sexual harassment policy in September 2014.

Rory Gerberg, a student at the Kennedy School of Government who co-organizes one of the graduate student coalitions that designed the petition, said it received about 500 signatures in total from “pretty minimal efforts.”


But Gerberg said that since the petition launched, the organizers’ priorities have “shifted,” referencing a letter criticizing Harvard's policy that 28 Harvard Law School professors published in The Boston Globe shortly after the petition launched. Since that time, Gerberg said the group has met with various administrators and professors, still using the “norms” affirmative consent embodies as a guiding force.

“We’re not pushing for [the petition] as actively as we were in the fall because what we’re doing now is engaging more in educational outreach events and pushing for more training,” said MaryRose Mazzola, another organizer and a Kennedy School student.

Organizers for Our Harvard Can Do Better, meanwhile, say the group will focus on ensuring that the current policy is clear and will indeed accomplish the same ends as affirmative consent, even if it does not include an explicit clause.

“If they’re going to insist on using this language that they’ve chosen and insist on saying that it is serving the same function as affirmative consent, I think it’s very important for me to make sure we’re holding them to that standard,” said Emily M. Fox-Penner ’17, an organizer for Our Harvard Can Do Better.

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


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