Eight Key Takeaways from the Sexual Assault Prevention Report

Senior Crimson News writers parsed through the sexual assault prevention task force's final report to highlight eight key takeaways.

Students held a rally in the fall demanding administrators to commit more resources to sexual assault prevention.
Students held a rally in the fall demanding administrators to commit more resources to sexual assault prevention. By Sidni M. Frederick

Earlier this month, the University’s sexual assault prevention task force released the findings of a near two year effort to study and address sexual misconduct on campus. In the wide-ranging report, the task force recommends instituting mandatory sexual assault prevention training, creating a new administrative post focused on prevention efforts, combating the influence of the College’s male final clubs, and establishing annual school-based surveys. Along with a 20-page report, the task force published dozens of pages of subcommittee research and data on the prevalence of sexual harassment on campus. Senior writers from the The Crimson's News Board parsed through the final report to highlight eight key takeaways. Click on each note to view the entire report.

Final Clubs

*This point comes from a separate document compiled by the task force's outreach subcommittee.

For months, male final clubs have worried that administrators would consider barring undergraduates from entry into the organizations, an option that Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana has refused to rule out. Amid this pressure, two final clubs broke from more than a century of tradition and accepted female members, and at least one other geared up for a potential legal battle with the University. Here, the task force’s outreach subcommittee makes the first public recommendation that the College consider forbidding undergraduates from joining single gender final clubs, a measure that would almost certainly draw ire, and potential litigation, from the male groups.

Even ignoring the final club-specific three-page addendum to the report, these sentences represent a near-complete reversal of the College’s decades-long strategy of refusing to recognize or directly oversee the clubs. While administrators have previously characterized the organizations as against the mission of the College, the report’s unequivocal condemnation of the clubs is notable, and could signal further action. In 2014, after the release of an analogous sexual misconduct report, Amherst banned student involvement in “fraternity-like and sorority-like organizations.”

Central Administration

Currently, the Title IX office employs a slew of administrators who focus in part on policy—including University Title IX officer Mia Karvonides, who oversees Harvard’s compliance with the law and coordinates investigations into complaints. The newest addition to the ever-growing Title IX bureaucracy will focus specifically on just one goal: the prevention of sexual assault at Harvard. The creation of a new University-wide position echoes a greater institutional shift in recent decades—the move toward locating resources in and crafting policies from Harvard's central administration.

Last fall, results to a University-wide survey revealed what administrators called a “troubling” sexual assault climate on campus. The survey, which Harvard administered along with 26 other schools, asked students to assess their knowledge of the University’s sexual assault resources and whether they had experienced sexual assault or harassment while enrolled. Under the report’s recommendation, individual schools would create their own surveys to understand the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses, which could offer Harvard more data than ever before about sexual misconduct across its vastly different units.

Undergraduates have called for required annual sexual assault prevention trainings—the College currently holds mandatory training for freshmen—over the past few semesters. During the Undergraduate Council’s most recent presidential campaign, for example, several tickets included the proposal in their platform. If implemented, such training would mark a significant increase in training for students, who indicated in the University-wide sexual climate survey that they were generally unaware of Harvard’s sexual assault policies.

College Life

At a town hall hosted in early March intended to inform students of Harvard’s Title IX policies, a number of students complained that Harvard’s “unwelcome conduct” standard was confusing. Last semester, student activists criticized a document released by Harvard’s Title IX Office intended to clarify the University’s Title IX procedures, calling the document “totally inaccessible.” The University-wide survey indicated that a sizable portion of students did not know how the University defined sexual harassment or which office investigated complaints.

The College has wavered back and forth on whether to allow hard alcohol on campus. In 2010, Harvard banned hard alcohol at on-campus House formals, and in 2011 it extended that restriction to off-campus House formals. But in 2012, Harvard reversed both of those decisions, citing student feedback. The debate, though, was far from over. Earlier this semester, Mather House outlawed the consumption of hard alcohol in its Junior Common Room, but just weeks later walked back that policy. Now, the report suggests perhaps it is best Harvard move again towards banning liquor. Peer institutions have also grappled with allowing hard alcohol on campus. Last January, Dartmouth authorized a campus-wide moratorium on hard liquor, citing dangerous student incidents involving hard alcohol.

Decreasing entry points would likely prove to be easier in some locations and harder in others. Adams and Cabot have a relatively high number of entrances, while some other Houses including Mather and Dunster have fewer entrances.

—Staff writers Jalin P. Cunningham, Andrew M. Duehren, C. Ramsey Fahs, Melissa C. Rodman, Ignacio Sabate, Luca F. Schroeder, and Daphne C. Thompson compiled this report.

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