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With the announcement of Lawrence S. Bacow as Harvard’s 29th president, the University is poised for new conversations, changes, and reforms. Few of those conversations will be as difficult, uncomfortable, or painful as those concerning sexual assault on Harvard’s campus. In recent days, this issue has again risen to the forefront amid reports that the federal government launched an investigation into Harvard in 2016 for failing to respond “promptly and equitably” to a complaint of sexual assault at the College. Although this case dates back two years, it is indicative of a much larger problem—Reports of sexual violence have risen by 65% since 2016. It is precisely for these reasons that Harvard must do more. We challenge the University to rethink and revamp the complex bureaucracy surrounding sexual harassment and assault.
There are too many dimensions encompassing sexual harassment and violence—including reporting mechanisms, counseling services, and academic accommodations—for us to fairly and effectively appraise the entirety of Harvard’s Title IX Office and Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Rather than discuss these offices at length, we urge the University to focus on the following actionable steps to better protect students.
Harvard students, faculty members, and affiliates need to engage in thoughtful, carefully facilitated conversations about sexual violence in order to support and protect one another. Yet we find that the current sexual harassment and assault trainings offered are in many ways inadequate to fulfill this goal. In-person trainings are required only at the start of freshman year. This enables issues of sexual harassment and assault to recede into the dim recesses of students’ memories, only to reemerge after an incident has occurred.
These conversations further fade into the background despite the online training modules mandated each fall. We find these modules unengaging and ineffective—watching short video clips and answering a few multiple choice questions once a year does little to encourage critical thought about such a challenging issue. A better solution is an in-person group training, which we believe would facilitate difficult conversations to occur and allow peers to hold each other accountable.
Having attended trainings held by various student organizations ourselves, we find that they too often fail to provide clear suggestions on how to diffuse and respond to dangerous situations at student-run events. While a range of trainings are offered, we find that they more often nebulously ask organizations to consider their identities and values rather than provide opportunities for concrete conversations about rape culture or sexual harassment. These flaws leave student leaders without proper guidance on how to be active allies and protect their members.
While we believe it is undoubtedly the responsibility of OSAPR to improve these trainings, we also believe that, in the words of Joe Biden, preventing sexual assault is ultimately “on us.” We have an obligation to our friends, classmates, peers, and even total strangers to educate ourselves on sexual assault. This issue should carry additional weight on Harvard’s campus given that in 2015, for example, 31.2 percent of female seniors reported being assaulted during their college years. That percentage should be zero.
If current trainings are inadequate, we should proactively take the time to learn how to help one another. This can be as simple as writing down the number of an assault hotline, or as complex as researching Harvard’s tangled list of resources for survivors. But it is not enough for us to click through a few slides on a computer screen. We, along with offices dedicated to sexual harassment and assault, can and must do more.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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