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At Panel, Kennedy School Students Raise Concerns Over Sexual Assault Policies

The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in December 2017.
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in December 2017. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Alexandra A. Chaidez, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Kennedy School students said they are concerned and confused by the school’s approach to sexual assault prevention and response at a panel Tuesday, arguing HKS needs to clarify its methods for handling sexual misconduct.

The panel, hosted by the Kennedy School’s Gender Policy Union, centered around student activism meant to address sexual misconduct at Harvard. The event featured speakers Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19— a member of anti-sexual assault advocacy organization Our Harvard Can Do Better—and MaryRose Mazzola, a 2015 graduate of the Kennedy School and a former co-coordinator of the Harvard graduate school-wide coalition Harvard Students Demand Respect.

Goldberg and Mazzola detailed the histories of their respective groups and actions they have taken to push forward initiatives meant to end sexual violence and harassment on campus.

Emily M. Ausubel, a first-year Master in Public Policy student and a co-chair of the Gender Policy Union, said the group decided to focus on sexual assault policy after the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 18 women have accused Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez of sexual harassment. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences last month placed Dominguez on “administrative leave” as Harvard investigates the allegations, and Dominguez has since announced he will retire from post.

“That created a big stir across campus and suddenly a lot of people were talking about this issue in a much more directed way and including myself and the rest of the Gender Policy Union members,” Ausubel said.

The Dominguez allegations prompted Kennedy School students to consider the school’s method of handling sexual harassment. The Kennedy School follows University-wide Title IX policy and procedures for handling complaints of sexual misconduct, and in recent years has taken a number of steps to implement the recommendations of a University-wide task force on sexual assault prevention.

The school now holds mandatory trainings at student orientation, has designated four staff members as Title IX coordinators, and provides workshops to train faculty on how to facilitate conversations around gender-based and other sensitive issues in the classroom, according to Kennedy School spokesman Doug Gavel.

Still, some students said these actions are not enough.

At the panel, Ausubel spoke about several concerns students have shared about the current implementation of the Title IX policy at HKS, which she said students raised at an off-the-record town hall about sexual misconduct the Union hosted last week.

“Some of the big takeaways of that conversation was a lack of clarity on Title IX policy, including all of the nitty gritty of the steps,” Ausubel said.

In addition to confusion over Title IX policy, Ausubel said students at the town hall called the mandatory orientation program was inadequate. Specifically, Ausubel said students worried that the training—currently mandatory for all first-year students but not for returning students—did not do enough to spark discussions around consent and community norms at Harvard.

The four current Title IX coordinators at the school all hold additional administrative roles; Debra Isaacson, the Title IX coordinator specifically for students, also serves as dean of students. Ausubel said students believe the four administrators are “overworked” and unable to prioritize Title IX concerns as a result.

Isaacson did not respond to a request for comment.

Kennedy School spokesperson Doug Gavel wrote in a statement Wednesday the school has been working to address these issues.

“We have been discussing many of these concerns with students, and we share the frustration of many students about how challenging the issue of sexual harassment can be,” Gavel wrote.

Goldberg and Mazzola concluded the panel by offering strategies so students can better communicate their feedback and apprehensions about current sexual misconduct-related procedures to administrators.

Goldberg urged Kennedy School students to connect with students at other graduate schools and Title IX experts. She also discussed what she called “the capital H policy,” a strategy of using the Harvard name to push for change.

“People pay attention to you because you’re a Harvard student, and that can be a really valuable tool,” she said.

Gavel wrote in a statement that the Kennedy School will continue to listen to student feedback in order to improve their programming on sexual assault prevention and response.

“We also have been engaging in conversations with our students to hear their concerns, and their ideas, so that we can enhance and improve our policies and our orientation sessions moving forward,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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Harvard Kennedy SchoolSexual AssaultFront Middle Feature