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Individual Schools Take Up Sexual Assault Recommendations

By Andrew M. Duehren and Daphne C. Thompson, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: March 28, 2016, at 11:22 p.m.

With its most significant work complete, Harvard's Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault has disbanded, leaving deans and administrators at each of the University's 12 schools responsible for acting on the report’s recommendations.

Earlier this month, the task force, consisting of students, faculty, and alumni from across Harvard, released a final set of recommendations to bolster sexual assault prevention efforts. Among many changes, the task force recommended annual sexual assault prevention training for all Harvard students and the hiring of a new administrator in the Provost’s Office dedicated to leading prevention efforts.

The task force began its work almost two years ago, and has since released two interim reports and helped conduct a University-wide survey about the prevalence of sexual assault.

Now, individual schools must develop plans to implement each of the University-wide recommendations. Steven E. Hyman, a former University provost and the chair of the Task Force, said the wide differences between each of the schools will make it more complicated to roll out the Task Force’s recommendations.

“We have a lot of recommendations where we understand that the College is different from the Business School is different from the Divinity school, and if we had a single implementation it would make no sense,” Hyman said. Many of the Task Force’s recommendations are specific to the College, including increased funding for school-sponsored social events and proposals to combat the influence of Harvard’s historically all-male final clubs.

The College has already convened two working groups that will submit recommendations to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana by the end of the academic year.

In an email, University Spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote Harvard President Drew G. Faust has "communicated extensively" with individual schools' deans, who are working alongside the central administration to begin implementing the Task Force's recommendations.

Hiring the new administrator to oversee sexual assault prevention will be a “very important step” in the implementation process, Hyman said, “even if it increases to some extent the size of central administration.” According to the task force’s report, the administrator will orchestrate the work of the Title IX officers and sexual assault prevention offices across the schools, develop educational materials, and evaluate prevention programs.

“The trouble with institutions, no matter how well motivated, is many different issues come up and grab everybody’s attention,” Hyman said. “So it’s really important for something as serious as this that somebody’s always got to be here who will not take their eyes off the ball and who is going to hold the different components of the campus to account.”

Given the number of offices that offered input to the report, including the Title IX Office and Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Hyman said he hoped the new administrator will minimize competing messages.

“It’s fine for them to have different perspectives and sometimes disagreements, but you can’t let them drift apart and give confusing messages,” Hyman said.

While Hyman said his task force has laid out a map for the near future, he added that “over time things change,” leaving room for the schools to adapt the recommendations to their particular needs.

“You almost have to think of it as a chronic disease that you can never cure, but you always have to stay on top of,” Hyman said. “This is not like getting an infectious disease you can cure with penicillin. This is literally an infirmity of humans in certain contexts.”

The report calls on schools to have “implementation plans in place” by the beginning of the next academic year.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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