Sexual Assault Task Force Members Detail Outreach Efforts

Members of Harvard’s sexual assault prevention task force updated the College’s Committee on Student Life on Thursday on its current initiatives, including expanding sexual assault education programming and using multimedia platforms for outreach.

Last April, amid debate over Harvard’s policies and approach to handling cases of alleged sexual assault, University President Drew G. Faust convened a task force to focus on sexual assault prevention efforts.

Two members of the task force—Lauren J. Urke ’15 and Stephanie R. Khurana, who is also a co-master of Cabot House—discussed ongoing communications and outreach efforts of one of the three subcommittees on the task force at the CSL’s meeting on Thursday morning. Economics professor David I. Laibson ’88 leads another subcommittee that is readying a climate survey to be released next month, and School of Public Health professor Lisa Berkman leads the third group, which is reviewing literature and other research on sexual harassment on college campuses, according to Khurana.

Khurana said the College has held 17 outreach meetings that attracted about 150 students. Administrators also talked individually to students.

“I feel like we got a good representation and created a safe environment where people were able to speak up and share their ideas,” Khurana said.


Khurana and Urke said upcoming College-based initiatives include: expanding sexual assault education programming beyond freshman orientation, utilizing multimedia to educate students on the issue, and thinking about social spaces on campus.

“People felt like it was a good start, but that [the] dialogue needed to continue,” Khurana said, referring to freshman orientation.

Some undergraduates present at the meeting emphasized a need to clarify language about sexual harassment, especially for freshmen from a diverse set of backgrounds.  

“In large part, it’s not that people disagree with these ideas; it’s that a lot of people have never heard of them,” UC representative Brett M. Biebelberg ’16 said, referring to the programming.

Urke pointed to the perceived success of other multimedia campaigns such as “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” or 2014’s “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign as models the task force is examining to capture undergraduates’ attention.

"We want to create awareness campaigns that could hopefully have a similar effect," she said, referring to the drunk driving initiative.

UC representative Samuel R. Kaplan ’18 suggested that the task force continue researching social spaces on campus open to undergraduates, and particularly freshmen.

The meeting also featured a demo of an upcoming mobile application the UC is developing, presented by Jason F. Herrmann ’18. The application, currently called “Omni” from Latin roots meaning “all,” is designed for undergraduates and based on a modified platform of one currently in use at Harvard Business school, according to UC Vice President Dhruv P. Goyal ’16.

Goyal said he thinks the application will present information better than the current official Harvard University mobile application. The application, which Goyal said the UC will start publicizing in mid-April, will also integrate information from another event application the UC introduced earlier this semester.

“The transition to mobile reflects a new strategy that we’re using to interact with students,” UC President Ava Nasrollahzadeh ’16 said.

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