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Student Activists Demand Harvard Enact Amnesty Policy for Reporters of Sexual Violence

Anti-sexual assault advocacy student-group Our Harvard Can Do Better called on University officials in a Tuesday email to exempt on-campus students who report sexual violence from penalties associated with violating COVID-19 health guidelines.
Anti-sexual assault advocacy student-group Our Harvard Can Do Better called on University officials in a Tuesday email to exempt on-campus students who report sexual violence from penalties associated with violating COVID-19 health guidelines. By Allison G. Lee
By Alex M. Koller, Crimson Staff Writer

Anti-sexual assault advocacy student-group Our Harvard Can Do Better called on University officials in a Tuesday email to exempt on-campus students who report sexual violence from penalties associated with violating COVID-19 health guidelines.

The amnesty policy would shield students who report witnessing or experiencing sexual violence from consequences stemming from violating residential safety measures. The emailed proposal — which was obtained by The Crimson and sent to University President Lawrence S. Bacow, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair — also advocates for extending the College’s “Help-Seeking Policy” to students seeking medical treatment for the effects of alcohol or drug use who may have violated social distancing guidelines.

Before arriving on campus this semester, College students living in Harvard’s dorms signed a “Residential Community Compact,” agreeing to follow social distancing rules and other safety guidelines.

To enforce the Community Compact and review alleged violations, the College formed a Community Council, which is composed of an equal number of student volunteers, faculty, and staff members. Associate Dean of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Brett Flehinger and Meghan Lockwood, who advises the College Dean's Office on issues related to COVID-19, serve as co-chairs of the council.

Students found in violation of the Community Compact are subject to non-disciplinary consequences, including a warning, “community responses” such as education, and loss of housing.

In their Tuesday email to University officials, members of Our Harvard Can Do Better wrote that they had been unsuccessful in lobbying the Community Council to adopt their proposed policy.

“As student organizers, we have been working with Meg Lockwood and Brett Flehinger from the Community Council to enact this measure. However, Meghan and Brett have informed us that the Community Council does not have the authority to do so,” the email states. “For this reason, we are asking you directly that the appropriate body at Harvard amend its policies to guarantee amnesty for survivors of sexual violence.”

College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on behalf of Flehinger and Lockwood.

The absence of an amnesty policy could “dissuade reporting of sexual- and gender-based violence,” according to Will M. Sutton ’23, a member of Our Harvard Can Do Better.

“Even though the Community Council says they’re non-disciplinary, it goes up to losing your housing, which is a pretty severe penalty even if it’s not on your disciplinary record,” he said.

Our Harvard Can Do Better member Sanika S. Majahan ’21 said the possibility of facing Community Council actions also places students who have experienced sexual violence at risk of “retraumatization.”

“Anybody on campus that’s at risk for sexual violence is at risk for further consequence or retraumatization under any kind of Community Council proceedings or any further proceedings that take place regarding COVID safety guidelines,” she said.

Mahajan said the group was inspired by student organizers at Stanford University who successfully persuaded their administration to codify amnesty for those who experienced sexual assault in the university’s campus compact in September.

In addition to its email, Our Harvard Can Do Better is encouraging students to put pressure on administrators to adopt the amnesty policy. Last week, the group published a list of its demands to its Instagram account along with a sample email template.

“Our focus really is making this a really prominent student concern so that either the Community Council is forced to consider it as something within their power or the University feels enough pressure to pass this on a University-level,” Sutton said. “We’re not sure which comes first.”

—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at alex.koller@thecrimson.com.

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