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During Commencement, Students Launch Campaign Against Sexual Misconduct

Tercentenary Theater Commencement 2016
Commencement 2016.

Undergraduates and graduate students have launched a new anti-sexual harassment campaign—dubbed “Times Up Harvard”—calling on the University to better respond to instances of sexual misconduct.

Organizers timed the campaign to coincide with Commencement, a time of year they say brings together people across Harvard and provides a platform for demanding change.

“Commencement is the time when the barrier between Harvard and the greater world kind of falls away for graduates, so it's a good time for something like this, which is tied in with our responsibilities beyond just this institution,” said Kelly T. “Kay” Xia ’19, an organizer affiliated with the anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better.

Student organizations including Our Harvard Can Do Better, the Kennedy School’s Gender Policy Union, and the newly-formed Harvard Graduate Student Union “Times Up” committee are all helping organize the effort.

Organizers handed out stickers for graduates to wear at Commencement ceremonies Thursday across Harvard’s campus. The students also sent a letter to University President Drew G. Faust and incoming president, Lawrence S. Bacow, outlining a number of demands.

The campaign and letter come in the wake of the #MeToo movement, a social media campaign that encourages women to come forward with stories of workplace sexual harassment. Harvard has seen its own #MeToo scandal in the form of allegations of decades of sexual harassment perpetrated by Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez. The students’ May letter specifically references the Dominguez case, calling it “deeply shocking” but adding “this was not an isolated incident.”

The letter explicitly urges Faust and Bacow to “publicly commit to increasing Harvard’s efforts to protect its students and workers against sexual violence and harassment, by going above and beyond compliance with the law.”

“Harvard must create an environment where every student and worker feels comfortable coming forward and where the problem of sexual violence is no longer a substantial impediment to the well-being of our community,” the letter reads. “We hope to work with you to achieve our shared goal of improving Harvard’s response to sexual misconduct.”

The letter—which gives administrators a week to respond to students' concerns and establish a time to meet with organizers—also laid out three recommendations including a suggestion that Harvard commit to conducting “regular campus climate surveys” and practice greater transparency when processing of Title IX complaints. The letter also requested Bacow meet with Harvard affiliates who have experienced sexual harassment.

The last University-wide climate survey on sexual misconduct was conducted in 2015 by the American Association of Universities through the research firm Westat. That survey revealed 31 percent of senior undergraduate women at the time had experienced some form of sexual assault while at Harvard. The University has not conducted a climate survey since.

The University-wide Title IX Office does, however, release annual reports that provide anonymized data on Title IX complaints and investigations.

The students’ letter also called for additional mandatory sexual assault prevention and response training. University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 and Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp announced earlier this month that Harvard will now require all faculty and staff members to complete an online training on the University’s sexual and gender-based harassment policies starting fall 2018.

University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in an email Wednesday that the “safety” and “well-being” of the University remains administrators’ “top priority.” She also noted the University’s Office of Dispute Resolution and Title IX Office are committed to equal access for University programs.

“The University, ODR, and the Title IX Office have repeatedly reiterated their unwavering commitment to ensuring equal access to University programs and activities as well as our commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity,” deLuzuriaga wrote.

Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19, a member of Our Harvard Can Do Better, said the action was coordinated by “a coalition of survivors and allies” from across the University. She referenced various instances she said made clear “the significant and negative effects” of sexual assault on Harvard’s students and workers—specifically, the Dominguez allegations and an anonymous spreadsheet, circulated online in recent months, that contained allegations accusing multiple affiliates of the Graduate School of Design of acts of sexual harassment.

“A real sense around a lot of students is that this is an ongoing problem and something that we need be taking new and innovative action against,” Goldberg said. “And so I think, in that climate, and in order to recognize the ongoing problems that we are facing and to stand in solidarity with survivors, we are asking people who are going to be graduating and everyone present at commencement to show their solidarity.”

Goldberg also referenced the U.S. Department of Education's 2011 decision to review a series of Title IX guidelines, a move that spurred Harvard and universities across the country to overhaul their responses to sexual assault on campus.

Xia, who said she has experienced sexual assault, said a number of the campaign’s organizers were in part motivated by personal experiences of sexual misconduct and assault.

“A lot of the organizing members for this action are survivors of sexual violence, and that our frustrations with the school's systemic response that was central to organizing this action, which feels personally important to us,” Xia said.

The Crimson reported Monday—several days after organizers sent their letter to Faust and Bacow—that Economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. is facing allegations of verbal sexual harassment and is the subject of Harvard and state investigations. Fryer has been barred since March from setting foot in the research lab he heads.

Correction: May 26, 2018

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the U.S. Department of Education chose to review a series of Title IX guidelines in 2017. In fact, the department chose to review the guidelines in 2011.

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

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty contributed reporting to this story.

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