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Reviewing Title IX

By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

One of the key questions those who have accused high-profile faculty of sexual harassment are bringing to the table is whether they should have a seat at the table. Most recently, 12 women who accused Anthropology professors Gary Urton and John L. Comaroff and Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez have written to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay to ask for representation on the committee reviewing the University's pair of interim Title IX policies.

That’s a question Dominguez accusers have been pressing since 2018, when the Chronicle of Higher Education broke the story of the scope and duration of his abuses and Harvard’s failure to address them. Dominguez accusers later criticized both the University’s external review of University culture for being “disinterested” in their accounts.

And though Dean Gay has stated, in regards to the current Title IX review, that the “committee will establish channels for collecting input from the FAS community on this important issue,” it is time that the people affected by sexual harassment and violence have a well-clarified and prominent role in the University’s approach to sexual assault on campus.

These accusers have personally experienced the Title IX process. They have done their best to use the system to obtain justice. They know the effectiveness of Title IX, and the ineffectiveness. They know which Title IX policies encouraged them to press forward, and which practices worked to suppress their voices. They understand the complexity of using a Harvard entity against a Harvard faculty member. Others can only imagine how a system would work without using it. The lived experience of a system is critical to making an informed review of the interim Title IX policies.

It is more than evident that these women hold crucial insight into Title IX’s processes and its effectiveness in its mission to protect against gender discrimination. Their experiences should be more than an informative voice taken into consideration. In the development of a long-term Title IX Policy, we want to see the voices of the accusers of Professors Comaroff, Urton, and Dominguez tangibly incorporated. These women should be represented in an institutionalized role in the Title IX interim policy review. Their demand should be answered with either a seat on this committee or with another method that will ensure their voices hold power and influence in this determination process. It is not enough alone for their voices to simply be heard.

There is a historical trend for the individuals who are most affected by policies to not be the ones actually designing them — indeed, this tradition is at the core of why some systems continue to perpetuate harm, and of how those at the top of them stay there. It is therefore absolutely critical that people who have been personally wronged have a seat at the table helping to repair the systems that constrained and oppressed them. Ultimately, the frustrations and inefficiencies of systems of enforcement and legal procedure, such as the Title IX legal regime, are understood uniquely well by those who have had to navigate them. That is why it is essential that the new committee being formed to review the FAS’s interim sexual harassment policy includes past complainants, helping ensure that it is complainants, not respondents, who are most served and protected by Title IX policies.

To be sure, from a practical standpoint, not all accusers can have a seat on review boards and committees. And we understand that the University will have to take these logistics into account. But it is incumbent upon these committees, if they want to successfully carry out their work, to think about how they can incorporate these perspectives in a more robust and transparent way than the cursory surveys and polite meetings on which they have historically relied.

This, ultimately, is the critical point: should they fail to adequately include — not just for show, but with real, rule-making power — survivors of sexual assault and harassment, the committee will deprive itself of the most critical perspective in tackling the problem. In so doing, it will doom itself to failure. Instead, hand-wringing and the persistence of the problem seem likely to follow.

The opacity of the committee’s work makes it difficult to opine on the issue of who else should be on the committee — and this is part of the problem. As students, we have little insight into how these sorts of decisions get made and into the extent the policymakers consider the needs of students, as opposed to the University’s interest to protect itself legally.

Having a stake in the process should mean having a say in the process. This necessarily involves both representation and transparency.

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.

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