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OSAPR and Harvard College to Pilot Bystander Training, Khurana Says

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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana pictured here in April.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said Friday he will work with the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response to pilot new forms of bystander training after survey results showed rates of sexual misconduct among undergraduates have remained stagnant over the past several years.

The results come from the 2019 iteration of the American Association of Universities’ sexual misconduct survey — the largest-ever of its kind. The 2019 survey showed that roughly 33 percent of surveyed undergraduate women and 11 percent of undergraduate men at Harvard reported that they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact. In a previous version of the survey conducted in 2015, 31 percent of senior undergraduate women reported the same.

The 2019 survey found that more than 80 percent of harassment incidents at the College occurred between students. When asked about undergraduate perpetrators, Khurana highlighted the bystander training Harvard plans to offer.

“We will be piloting — working with OSAPR — bystander training in different ways to see what the most effective type of bystander training [is that] we can do in our community,” Khurana said.

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Khurana said he thinks the University needs to examine the conditions that allow for sexual harassment and assault to occur on campus.

“I think we have to interrogate the conditions that create that view that you are entitled to disrespect someone, to challenge an expectation of consent, to create conditions of intimidation and coercion that prevent people from exercising agency over themselves,” he said.

Both the College and the University have made sweeping changes to Title IX enforcement over the past four years. Administrators split the Title IX Office in two and implemented mandatory training for faculty, students, and staff. This semester, Harvard unveiled an anonymous reporting system in response to affiliates’ feedback.

Asked why he thinks the changes made since 2015 did not impact the prevalence of sexual misconduct, Khurana said he does not know.

“I'm reflecting on that. I don't have an answer,” he said. “While [the changes] may not affect, you know, the specific one area — sexual harassment or sexual assault — they may affect other areas, improve situations in certain ways, or at least allow us to identify gaps that we might not have known.”

Only 49 percent of undergraduate women surveyed — compared to 74.7 percent of undergraduate men — said they believe Harvard administrators will treat complaints of sexual misconduct seriously. Khurana said he thinks College affiliates should put their trust in the current system.

“I think this is an area where people have to trust the system and so we have work to do to build that trust,” Khurana said. “I think it takes understanding that you have agency in how the process is managed, that it stays in control of the individual who's suffered the experience, and they will be supported throughout whatever decision they decide to make.”

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at delano.franklin@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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