I hadn’t even been able to grab a Tuesday’s edition of The Crimson to read the details before it started. Before I even had a chance to sip my morning coffee, University administrators began their virtue-signaling, excuses, statements of the obvious, and pleas of innocence. University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana emailed students in an attempt to quell the justified flames they foresaw igniting — emails, absolutely teeming with truly reassuring conviction like “We must do better.”
… Really? This empty rhetoric, I feel, underscores an essential issue with the way in which the University administration deals with sexual assault and misconduct. Administrators can either try to shine as favorable a light on the University as possible or deal with these problems as they exist. But they can’t have both.
Sending out multiple emails, before anyone could have truly internalized or made sense of the extensive results of the Association of American Universities Survey, is clearly an attempt at ass-covering crowd control.. Dedicating paragraphs of text explaining everything the University has done since the 2015 survey to combat sexual assault is a testament to this. Although these actions were a necessary step in the right direction, in the context of the data that was just released, they represent a massive failure on behalf of the University that not nearly enough has been done. They do not warrant any praise or sympathy being given to the University for that reason.
Praise can be given to all the individuals at the Title IX Office, the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and all the other resources for their efforts thus far with the resources that have been made available to them. Sympathy can be given to all the many victims of sexual assault and misconduct on Harvard’s campus. But the president and the rest of the administration will earn those rights after there is improvement — and most certainly no further regression — in reports of sexual misconduct on campus.
And they certainly will not get any closer to earning those rights by immediately trying so hard to convince everyone that the University has taken significant action since 2015 when the evidence suggests that their actions haven’t been nearly enough.
It’s oxymoronic. Either there is significant action that was taken since 2015, or there persists a problem at our school and in its culture around sexual assault. If the problem persists to the same exact extent it did before then the action taken was simply not “significant” at all. There have been four years since the first survey. That’s four years’ worth of thousands of students, staff, and faculty being at risk of and experiencing sexual assault. It’s also four years of the administration telling members of the community about all the significant changes they are making to address it. And what is there to show for it? No significant improvement in the lived experience of the members of the community, at best, and a deterioration by some measures, at worse.
Bacow’s “we must do better” assertion is a baby step in the right direction that has already been made time and time again. I implore the University to stop trying to convince anyone that they have taken significant action until there is any evidence to suggest that is the case. Until Harvard is a leader among higher learning institutions in terms of sexual assault reduction and prevention, I would hope that they would hear the suggestions that have been made already and will be made to them in the coming period of time. Furthermore, I hope they take the suggestions and run with them, with all the gusto and support it will take to make a meaningful change.
The administration can’t have it both ways — it’s either they are covering up for themselves and simply acknowledging the problem exists or accepting that the problem exists as a result of their inaction and taking genuine action to establish Harvard as the global leader it professes to be.
Marcus B. Montague-Mfuni ’23, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Pennypacker Hall.