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Activists Weigh In on Sexual Assault Response at Law School

By Jonathan G. Adler, Crimson Staff Writer

As discussions of sexual assault and Title IX pervade campus rhetoric, Harvard Law School alumna and activist Kamilah Willingham offered her views on the topics and reflected on her experiences at a conference Tuesday.

The conference, entitled “Challenges in Title IX Advocacy,” was the first from Harassment/Assault Law-School Team, a new organization of Law School students that advocates for students who file sexual assault claims through internal procedures at schools in the Boston area.

Willingham, who gave the keynote address, was featured in the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which criticizes Harvard's response to Law School student Brandon J. Winston’s alleged sexual assault of Willingham and her friend. In November, 19 professors at the Law School signed an open letter calling the documentary’s portrayal of the facts in the case “unfair and misleading.”

In her address, Willingham spoke about her recent letter responding to the 19 professors that she released on the online publishing platform Medium.

“From you, I expect more,” Willingham wrote in her letter.

Willingham said she was grateful to speak at the conference.

“I felt both immensely supported and heartbroken by the number of students who came to listen and who expressed how they related to my experience,” she wrote in an email.

Jenae S. Moxie, a Law School student and the president of HALT, spoke during a panel discussions about her disillusionment with the Law School’s ability to educate students about sexual assault.

“I have lost my faith in the potential for the Law School or its curriculum to put out people who care deeply about things,” Moxie said.

Moxie said that, although classes such as Law lecturer Diane L. Rosenfeld’s “Gender Violence, Law, and Social Justice” were promising exceptions to that pattern, she still believed activism from students would ultimately bring about change at the Law School.

“It’s largely through students who advocate for changes in the curriculum and diversity of professors that you can actually have a conversation about decent moral people who care about justice in the world,” Moxie said. “We have people who are making noise and making actual changes.”

Rosenfeld also praised student activism to improve the sexual assault climate at the Law School and other universities.

“Student activism and student connectivity is critically important,” she said. “We’re members of the Harvard community, and we have a lot of credibility in the world, whether it’s deserved or not. ”

However, in addition to student activism, Rosenfeld said she is optimistic about the potential positive effects of her curriculum.

“I have the incredible privilege and luxury of creating my own curriculum, and having created the gender violence program,” Rosenfeld said. “I wanted to develop Title IX as an incredibly strong potential source of civil rights in education.”

HALT’s conference comes in the wake of ongoing debate about sexual assault and Title IX compliance at the Law School and the University more broadly. In 2014, the Law School was found in violation of Title IX for its “current and prior” policies on sexual harassment. Earlier this month a University task force released a wide-ranging report that offered recommendations to help reduce the “troubling” prevalence of sexual assault across Harvard’s schools.

–Staff writer Jonathan G. Adler can be reached at jonathan.adler@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanGAdler.

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Harvard Law SchoolUniversityUniversity NewsSexual AssaultTitle IX