At iLab, Students Explore Ways to Combat Sexual Assault

Dozens gathered for a“hackathon” at the Harvard Innovation Lab on Sunday to develop ideas to help combat campus sexual assault.

The event, called “The Exchange: Reimagining Romantic Relationships,” was launched by Confi—a student startup from the iLab that focuses on women’s health—in collaboration with the Harvard Business School and Harvard College. Harvard's Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response publicized the event on its website.

The Undergraduate Council provided funding for the event, whose organizers had applied for a grant under the UC’s “Open Harvard” initiative, according to president Shaiba Rather ’17. She attended the event along with UC vice president Daniel V. Banks ’17.

Montita Sowapark ’18, an event coordinator and intern at Confi, said organizers hoped attendees would “bring forward their own individual ideas and experiences, discuss gaps in the system, and ultimately determine how to better deal with campus sexual assault.”

She added that students should have a place to voice their ideas, opinions, and own experiences regarding sex and sexual assault and that they should have resources to see their ideas implemented.


Reflecting on their own personal experiences and ideas, randomly sorted teams worked together to determine how to combat campus sexual assault. Gathered around tables and white boards, each group used a provided list of general sexual assault facts and broad questions to start their conversations.

The winning team will receive a prize of $1,000 and will see their solution implemented by the UC.

Tess D. Brooks, a student at the Business School and the founder of Confi, said many of her peers had ideas on how to combat sexual assault, which has been an ongoing topic of conversation across Harvard.

“We wanted a forum for these ideas to come to fruition. We are surrounded by so many different, bright people across all of the schools and we thought that we should apply the innovation we use in our business projects to social issues,” Brooks said.

Gwen D. van de Pas, a friend of Brooks's who is currently working on a documentary on sexual assault, highlighted the importance of open forums to discuss issues surrounding sexual assault.

“One thing I come across a lot in my research is that people are not able to talk about sexual assault. We need to have an open discussion where people know they will not be judged for their opinion,” van de Pas said.

–Staff writer Julia E. DeBenedictis can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Julia_DeBene.