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UPDATED: September 30, 2016, at 2:51 a.m.
Harvard Law School debuted a remodeled Title IX training for new students this fall in response to student criticisms and recommendations from a University-wide task force on sexual assault prevention.
While Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells heralded the training as an improvement over previous iterations, she and Law School students said it was still flawed, and emphasized the need for further changes to the programming.
First-years completed a new Law School-specific online training module, and for the first time, attended an in-person session led by the Office of Dispute Resolution and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at their orientation in August. Both trainings were mandatory for new students.
Controversy surrounding the Law School’s compliance with Title IX engulfed the school in 2014, when the federal government found the Law School in violation of the federal anti-sex discrimination law.
And over the past year, the University at large has doubled its efforts to prevent sexual assault. Last spring, a University-wide task force released a series of recommendations for overhauling sexual assault prevention efforts and charged individual schools to develop specific implementation plans by the fall. The recommendations called on schools to augment sexual assault education and prevention training, with an emphasis on mandatory annual training for all students, interactive sessions in small groups, and online modules. In line with the task force’s suggestions, the College rolled out a mandatory online training module to all undergraduates earlier this month.
The Law School released its plan to act on some recommendations to the University’s central Title IX office at the beginning of the semester but has not made the plan public. Only first-year students were required to participate in the Law School’s training this year.
According to Sells, conversations about enhancing Title IX training began at the Law School well before the task force report. Last fall, students criticized existing programming as meager and ineffective. In previous years, the Law School’s training consisted only of an online program administered by an outside service.
Students said the old online module was not sufficiently engaging and took issue with scenarios presented that they felt were not applicable to Law students. Students also requested additional in-person programming.
Over the course of last academic year, Sells and fellow Title IX coordinators Catherine Claypoole and Kevin Moody met with student government representatives, members of the Harassment/Assault Law-School Team, and a faculty working group to revise the school’s approach to Title IX education.
Law School Title IX specialist Jeanna Phemmison created the new online module, which incorporated the Law School-specific Title IX procedures implemented in 2015 in a departure from the Harvard-wide framework.
This year’s online orientation sessions asked students to consider sexual harassment scenarios unique to the Law School.
Minjoo Kim, a second-year Law School student who became involved in brainstorming Title IX training reforms after creating the student government’s Health and Wellness Title IX subcommittee, found the process disappointing. With many students and administrators intently focused on activism surrounding race and diversity at the school last year, Kim said she felt Title IX issues were not accorded the attention they deserved. She was the only member of the student government subcommittee, and the faculty working group did not meet as regularly as she had hoped.
“After Reclaim last year, I think, deservedly, Black Lives Matter and racial issues get a lot more interest, but I do feel like Title IX hasn’t been that big here,” Kim said, referring to a student activist group at the Law School. “It was so hard for me to find people who were even interested here.”
But a new group of first-year students has already begun to voice dissatisfaction with the new training. First-year student Devony Schmidt thought both the online and in-person programs focused too heavily on procedure while failing to address rape culture and bystander intervention strategies. Schmidt said she thinks finding the procedure online is straightforward, so orientation should focus on campus sexual climate and prevention strategies.
“We felt it would be much more helpful for these organizations to focus on the reality of rape culture on the Law School campus,” she said. “A lot of us were really disappointed as well that there was no talk at all about what it means to be an active witness.”
Schmidt said a group of students in her 1L section discussed their qualms about Title IX programming after orientation, and at least one student brought these complaints to Sells.
Last May, HALT members issued a series of recommendations to Law School Title IX coordinators advocating for mandatory bystander training for new students. While it was too late to integrate the proposals into this year’s orientation, Sells said administrators would consider implementing bystander intervention training in future years.
Sells emphasized that conversations about how to reform sexual assault education at the Law School are ongoing, and she and the other Title IX coordinators will continue to solicit student input. Administrators are exploring adding small group trainings, programs for second- and third-year Law students, developing peer education, updating the online module, and collaborating more closely with OSAPR, Sells said.
“Some of the changes have been incremental, and I mean that I think in a good way, because we’re thinking about what makes sense and what works,” she said. “I think we can do better.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: September 30, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that in-person Title IX orientations at the Law School deal with scenarios unique to the school. In fact, only the online modules considered school-specific scenarios. In addition, the article incorrectly stated orientation sessions included hypothetical scenarios in criminal law classrooms. Orientation sessions did not use such scenarios.
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