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Student-Only Group Will Provide ‘Unfettered’ Input on College Sexual Assault Prevention

By Jalin P. Cunningham and Ignacio Sabate, Crimson Staff Writers

Fulfilling a longtime wish for student activists, a committee composed solely of undergraduates has begun meeting to provide “unfettered” input for administrators as the College seeks to implement sexual assault prevention measures.

The committee is one of two separate working groups that have begun meeting to implement recommendations from a University-wide task force’s report on sexual assault prevention and is advised by Emily J. Miller, the College’s Title IX Coordinator, and Emelyn A. dela Peña, the assistant dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

On March 9, a University-wide task force released recommendations for preventing sexual assault at Harvard, a problem President Drew G. Faust has deemed “deeply troubling.” The 20 page report covers all of Harvard’s schools, but disproportionately focuses on the College, citing its “residential character” and historically single-sex social organizations as potential problems in addressing sexual assault prevention.

Before the report was even released, a group of roughly a dozen students convened this semester to help craft the College’s response to the prevalence of sexual assault, according to dela Peña.

Before the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, both the student working group and a separate faculty committee will submit a plan of action to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana addressing how the report’s broader recommendations will be implemented at the College level.

Some students have long desired the creation of an all-student task force to provide input on sexual assault prevention. In November, anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better sponsored an undergraduate-wide referendum criticizing Harvard’s central administration for a perceived lack of student input in addressing campus sexual assault.

The referendum received widespread support in the election, with 76 percent of voters approving the proposal. Jessica R. Fournier ’17, an organizer of Our Harvard Can Do Better, now serves on the student-comprised working group.

So far, the all-student group has met several times under the guidance of dela Peña and Miller. Dela Peña said the group’s primary focus is to “come up with student-centered, student-focused interventions” both in sexual assault prevention and response.

She added that the group’s purpose is to give “unfettered” input to College administrators on an issue that largely affects students.

The student working group draws membership from the Undergraduate Council, varsity sports teams, and students from the College’s women’s, anti-sexual assault advocacy, and BGLTQ organizations, according to Fournier and dela Peña.

“It’s a very broad representation,” dela Peña said.

The working group is divided into three subcommittees, focusing on addressing prevention of sexual assault, revisiting the College’s response mechanisms for sexual assault, and devising ways for distributing the findings of the committee among the student body, Fournier said.

Despite the new group’s creation and seeming progress, Fournier said she was skeptical about the group’s ability to effect change.

“This group is really focusing on the prevention side of things, and where does that leave us on policy change,” Fournier said. She argued that there should be greater student representation on a separate committee charged with reviewing Harvard’s Title IX policies.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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