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Title IX Disclosures Increase While Formal Complaints Remain Stagnant, Per Annual Report

University Hall houses the offices of several administrators.
University Hall houses the offices of several administrators. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Simone C. Chu and Iris M. Lewis, Crimson Staff Writers

While disclosures of sexual and gender-based harassment increased by 20 percent in 2019, filings of formal complaints remained stagnant, according to an annual report published Monday by the Title IX Office and Office for Dispute Resolution.

The report, which reviews the University’s sexual and gender-based harassment prevention initiatives, highlighted the new measures undertaken this year, as well as how rates of disclosures and formal complaint filings have changed over the past five years.

Between the fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the rate at which Harvard affiliates disclosed harassment to the Title IX Office increased 56 percent. The jump from 2018 to 2019 was more moderate: While 416 students made disclosures in 2018, 500 did so a year later.

The annual report also found that Title IX training completion rates improved substantially as the training system expanded. The number of people who attended in-person trainings increased 50 percent in 2019, for example, and a newly mandatory staff training yielded a 270 percent improvement in employee online module completion.

The Title IX Office also introduced a new bystander intervention program over the past year.

“Since the initial pilot, the program has been customized and delivered to faculty and staff communities across 20 departments at Harvard,” University Title IX Officer Nicole M. Merhill wrote in a letter included in the report. “The program continues to return promising qualitative and quantitative results.”

In addition to new trainings, the Title IX Office implemented a Student Title IX Liaison Committee in the fall of 2018 and a Staff Liaison Committee in January. Merhill wrote that the student liaisons were “key partners” in implementing several Title IX initiatives this year, including a gender equity summit held in April. The staff liaisons reviewed the online training module for Harvard faculty and staff, work that will be reflected in the 2020 training programs.

The University also launched an anonymous online reporting tool in 2019, but disclosures made through the tool were not included in the report’s count because the tool debuted after the end of the fiscal year.

With respect to investigations, the ODR — which handles formal Title IX complaints — also looked into “related allegations,” for example, alleged harassment based on race, color, or national origin, ODR Director William McCants wrote in a letter included in the report.

McCants also wrote that ODR worked to improve the format and readability of its final reports on investigation over the past year. Final reports for cases originating in 2019 averaged under 22 pages in length, compared to an average of almost 47 pages in 2015.

The plurality of ODR investigations over the last five years involved complaints of “verbal, written, graphic, photo, film, eyeing, sexual advance” or other forms of harassment, with 56 investigations based on this type of reported misconduct. In comparison, 47 investigated cases of unwelcome sexual touching other than penetration, and 39 cases dealt with concerns of retaliation. Thirty-one cases involved non-consensual penetration, and 16 involved penetration and incapacitation.

The Title IX Office and ODR’s annual report comes in the wake of the results of the Association of American Universities’s survey on campus climate regarding sexual misconduct, which were released in October. The AAU survey found that reported rates of sexual violence have remained largely unchanged on Harvard’s campus over the past four years.

“While progress has been made in many areas, all available data supports the need for a multifaceted approach to address issues of sexual and gender-based harassment in academia,” Merhill wrote in Monday’s report. “We are committed to continuing our efforts to this end, by exploring innovative approaches, examining and implementing promising practices, and drawing from expertise both within the Harvard community and across the nation.”

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

—Staff writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at

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