‘It’s a Limbo’: Grad Students, Frustrated by Harvard’s Response to Bullying Complaint, Petition for Reform
Community Groups Promote Vaccine Awareness Among Cambridge Residents of Color
Students Celebrate Upcoming Harvard-Yale Game at CEB Spirit Week
Harvard Epidemiologist Michael Mina Resigns, Appointed Chief Science Officer at eMed
Harvard Likely to Loosen Campus Covid Restrictions in the Spring, Garber Says
Hey, it’s me. One of your statistics.
Call me what you want: sexual assault victim, rape survivor, a report of “nonconsensual sexual penetration through the use of force.” It doesn’t really matter, because no matter what happens or has happened, I am simply, completely, and totally me. And I have something to tell you.
It happened last fall. An upperclassman I’d known since Visitas had invited me to his dorm to study for our coming Science of Cooking midterm and watch movies with some of his frat brothers. Of course, I had gone.
But he hadn’t let me leave.
Harvard could not have saved me from that man, and I know that. How could they possibly know that one of their own was a predator masquerading as a student? Prevention is extremely difficult in cases of sexual assault, and, honestly, the best we can do is try to change rape culture and raise children who understand consent and respect.
But Harvard could have helped me afterwards, and they didn’t.
Harvard, I understand that your move against the final clubs was well-meaning. But as someone who has experienced first-hand the sexual violence that occurs on this campus, please listen to me when I say many of your policies and programs are failing us.
The morning after my attack, I woke in the room of a close friend shaken and hollow. I refused to change or shower, because I knew a rape kit was not only imminent but necessary. After trudging back to my dorm, I immediately went to my proctor, and he called health services. The news was shocking.
Harvard University Health Services didn’t provide rape kits.
It didn’t fully hit me then—I was far too numb. But later, after having to get an Uber to a hospital in the city and waiting three hours for the specialized nurse to arrive, the anger came. College campuses are notorious for their high instances of rape and sexual assault. Yet my university, the greatest and wealthiest in the world, could not even provide me a rape kit. I could not go to the health center that I was comfortable with. I was referred to an enormous, foreign hospital across the city feeling even more scared and vulnerable than I had before. It still shocks me.
But it didn't end there.
A few days later, I was shepherded into the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response where I was to meet a representative and the Title IX coordinator. The meeting was long, a barrage of information and emails and programs that I can’t even begin to reiterate. However, I do remember the moment I realized the University would not be able to help me.
They told me that unless I went through the trial process, Harvard was unable to intervene in any meaningful way.
Now, every survivor is different. Some need to seek justice and fire back. But for me? The idea of my attacker seeking retribution was a crippling fear that made me pale at the thought of going through with the grueling trial process. But this ultimatum put me at war with myself.
Unless I subjugated myself to a long trial, Harvard would do nothing to keep him away from me. That’s right. Nothing. Even though my rape kit had come back positive, that was not enough.
This meant that I would still have to go to class with him. Every Tuesday and Thursday.
Dread flooded me as the Title IX coordinator wrapped up and left me alone with the OSAPR representative.
Fear plain on my face, I asked her how long the trial would be realistically. Looking at me sadly, she answered back that the fastest trial she’d overseen had taken six months, but some could stretch to over a year—especially if the accused was able to afford good lawyers who delayed the process.
I could only cry.
Already halfway through the semester, six months would mean that even if I did agree to a trial, he would not only still be in my class, but know that I was pressing charges. Over a year? He was a senior and would be long gone from campus by the time justice was served.
So, I did what I thought was the best choice in a horrible situation: I stayed silent. Harvard added his name to a list of accused. If another girl was attacked, they would prosecute him independently on our behalf. Thankfully, his name has not come up again, and that gives me some amount of peace.
But I still remember the trauma of seeing him two times a week for the rest of the year. I’m just thankful that my class was a large one, and he could be avoided. Still, the occasional eye contact and smug smiles I received from him were enough to exile me after class, shaking and sobbing, to the Science Center bathrooms.
The first semester passed quickly, a whir of friendships and new opportunities. I even had a few months of peace. I started therapy, rarely saw him, and was truly finding my place in the Harvard community. Then, the sexual assault report came out and single-sex organizations were put under siege.
It had been almost six months, but I can’t describe to you how it felt to see those glass boxes in the middle of Tercentenary Theatre last semester. Most of the words paired with Harvard’s sexual assault statistics in the art installation were well meaning. Yet, walking past them every day was a reminder of how my university had failed me when I needed it most, and now insisted on making a victory parade out of what felt like a sham.
Instead of taking steps to help survivors, Harvard started a witch hunt against single-gender organizations under the guise of protecting us.
Shutting down the final clubs, sororities, and fraternities on our campus will do almost nothing to help prevent sexual assault. In fact, more than 80 percent of sexual assault happens within Harvard’s own dorms, and yet no steps have been taken to secure those places.
Though my attacker was a member of a fraternity, I have no ill will towards the final clubs or other single-sex organizations on campus. In fact, I continued to visit those spaces almost every weekend. I saw my friends light up as they joined the ranks of their sororities or finished punching for their club. You have taken away an integral part of the student experience at Harvard.
But above their functions as social clubs, you also robbed many students of the very safe spaces you claim to be creating. Though I am not a member of a sorority, I know many fellow survivors who are. They’ve found a community of strong, vibrant women with whom they can enjoy the delights of youth without fear. And this does not only apply to women on campus. The boys I’ve seen join fraternities and final clubs have truly grown into men. They have found friendship and spaces of camaraderie.
The fact is: I do not want to be shuffled away into the likes of Pusey Library or another deemed “safe space” every weekend. I do not want to hide from other students on this campus. I want to be safe. But more than that, I want to be protected when that safety has been breached.
It’s true: rapists and sexual predators exist within the single-sex organizations. And yes, members should start holding one another accountable for what happens within their social space. But shutting them down completely not only kills potential spaces for growth, but breeds animosity. Instead, clubs should be rewarded by the University for becoming coed or taking part in consent education programs. Still, I believe such changes are their choices to make.
Harvard, I understand that you are trying to help your students. But instead of putting students at war with the very institution we expect to support and protect us, let’s start out with some basics: providing rape kits at University Health Services, shortening the length of trial, allowing students to go to class without having to face their attacker, and making dorms more secure.
It may not fix everything, but it’s a start.
A strong, vibrant woman who will always be more than a statistic on piece of paper or a ripped skirt in a police storage room.
Editors’ Note: We made the decision to run this op-ed anonymously due to the private and intensely personal nature of its content. It is our hope that this piece will bring to light issues that affect members of our community.
Readers should also note that online commenting has been disabled for this piece in an effort to help protect the author's identity.
—Nelson L. Barrette and Ryan P. O'Meara, Editorial Chairs
—Mariel A. Klein, President
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.