Last week, more than 70 members of the Harvard Band walked out of their centennial banquet after an alumnus made an inappropriate and offensive joke about the group’s new policy for reporting sexual harassment. This incident is just one more example of what many students at Harvard already know: Harvard continues to be an old boy’s club.
We commend the students in the Band for taking a stand against this joke. This emphatic act of protest sent a powerful message about students’ values. These incidents cannot be taken as individual mistakes, but as signs of a larger, prevailing culture that the Harvard community — alumni included — must continue to confront with the utmost seriousness. It takes self-awareness from within organizations and action from students in order to cause meaningful change to happen.
The “joke” is a perfect example of why Harvard needs more preventative resources and avenues for reporting sexual assault and harassment, not just in Harvard’s academic settings but in extracurricular groups as well. While recent conversations have largely focused on sexual misconduct within the scholastic environment, we cannot forget that Harvard students’ and affiliates’ experiences take place in a variety of settings. Sexual misconduct occurs in various forms and places; a holistic, zero-tolerance approach to this misconduct must take into account the breadth of contexts that make up Harvard student life and define its culture as a whole.
A big part of this culture comes in the form of “jokes” that minimize experiences and poke fun at victims’ expense. These jokes are not funny and cannot be brushed aside as “poor” or a momentary lapse in judgment. This is especially true in light of the fact that not a week later the Association of American Universities released its 2019 campus survey on sexual assault and harrassment that found little to no change at Harvard since 2015 and that found upwards of a quarter of students had heard offensive or insulting sexual remarks or jokes.
The survey and experiences like these underscore the existence of a toxic culture on our campus — one that has existed for a long time and that shaped the experiences of students who have graduated. Therefore, it is no surprise that sentiments like this come up when former students return. As alumni continue their involvement in school activities, they should be cognizant of the fact that campus expectations and values will change over time.
What might have been accepted or overlooked not long ago as “locker room talk” or as a harmless joke is now understood for its deeper emotional and cultural effects. As alumni continue to be involved in the College, we encourage them to welcome the opinions of current students and acknowledge the changes that have taken place since they were students.
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.