Sixty-seven percent of Harvard undergraduates have completed the College’s online sexual assault prevention training module, half a year after the school first unveiled the program in September.
The training, intended to educate students about Harvard’s sexual harassment-related policies and resources, was spurred by a sexual conduct climate survey that found what University President Drew G. Faust deemed a “deeply disturbing” prevalence of sexual harassment and assault on campus. Students were originally required to complete the interactive module by the middle of October 2016, but faced no penalties for finishing the training late or not at all.
“Overall, I am really pleased with this response rate,” the College’s Title IX Coordinator Emily J. Miller wrote in an emailed statement. “ I would love for that final [third] to step up and complete the training because we need everyone on board to address this issue that affects our entire community.”
She added that the College continues to “encourage participation” from those who have yet to complete the module.
Harvard developed the online training system after a University-wide task force on sexual assault prevention suggested mandating annual sexual assault prevention training for all Harvard undergraduates. The task force's final report specifically called for an online training platform.
Miller said she viewed the training module as a “pilot” of a future, more comprehensive program. She said she plans for the College to eventually release four iterations of the module every year, with each version tailored and delivered to students in each of the four class years.
Some Title IX experts said they were impressed with the two-thirds completion rate for what they called a “voluntary” training program, given students faced no punishment for failing to complete it.
“That’s extraordinary,” Peter F. Lake ’81, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who specializes in higher education law, said of the module results. “I’m not the person to say if this is the most successful student training program ever, but it certainly got me to jump up out of the chair.”
Colby Bruno, the senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center, said she was also impressed by the completion rate. She said she believes the “high” percentage of students who chose to take the training indicates a “culture shift” may have taken place on Harvard’s campus.
“What we want is a total and complete culture shift from a culture that acknowledges and accepts rape as part of the culture to a culture that acknowledges and rejects rape in all forms,” she said. “To say that 67 percent of students willingly participated demonstrates to me a really big cultural shift.”
Others, however, said the College must do more to ensure that students are educated about issues surrounding sexual assault.
Jessica R. Fournier ’17, an organizer with anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better, said she thought Harvard should eventually make students’ ability to enroll in courses contingent on their completion of the sexual assault training module. She added that this policy would be the only way to ensure all students are “compelled” to get information about sexual assault.
Dickinson College general counsel Dana Scaduto suggested Harvard might consider adding to its portfolio of sexual assault education options in future, including potential in-person training sessions.
“I would say 67 percent in a voluntary model strikes me as a very good response rate, a good rate of interest, but it’s not high enough, and that’s why you need a variety of approaches,” she said.
She added: “You want to be sure that the other 33 percent of students have the level of information that the school wants them to have around this very important issue.”
–Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
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