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Student Pressure Prompts College to Shield Students Reporting Sexual Violence From Social Distancing Discipline

In response to student advocacy, the College will exempt students who report sexual misconduct and harassment from consequences related to violating residential COVID-19 rules.
In response to student advocacy, the College will exempt students who report sexual misconduct and harassment from consequences related to violating residential COVID-19 rules. By Allison G. Lee
By Alex M. Koller, Crimson Staff Writer

In response to student advocacy, the College will exempt students who report sexual misconduct and harassment from consequences related to violating residential COVID-19 rules.

The new guidelines mean the College will not penalize students who come forward with allegations of sexual assault involving breaches of campus health rules. Prior to arriving on campus this fall, undergraduates living in Harvard’s dorms signed a “residential community compact,” agreeing to follow social distancing rules and other safety guidelines.

To enforce the compact and review alleged violations, the College formed a Community Council — composed of an equal number of student volunteers, faculty, and staff members — earlier this semester.

Students found in violation of the compact are subject to non-disciplinary consequences, including a warning, “community responses” such as education, and dismissal from campus housing.

Friday's update appended new language to the compact, establishing protections from non-disciplinary actions for on-campus students.

“In order to encourage information sharing and seeking support, the College will ordinarily not hold students accountable for violations of the Residential Community Compact if those violations also include allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment,” the compact now reads.

“Nor will information disclosed by a student to a Title IX office or the Office of Dispute Resolution be considered by the Community Council,” according to the compact.

The addition states “it is not the practice” of the Title IX Coordinators to disclose information on student handbook violations to the Administrative Board or Honor Council. The coordinators also “will not provide reports about potential violations of the Compact to the Community Council,” according to the document.

Last week, the anti-sexual assault group Our Harvard Can Do Better penned an email to University officials demanding they enact what it termed an amnesty policy for students who report sexual violence.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that Our Harvard Can Do Better’s advocacy prompted the addition of new text to the Community Compact.

“The College has been in communication with OHCDB about adding additional language to the community compact to encourage students to seek help under COVID rules, and the new language reflects that,” Dane wrote.

Our Harvard Can Do Better member Sanika S. Mahajan ’21 said while the revision marks “a win for student organizing,” the group still has “concerns with the language.”

“They’re allowing leeway to decide when are the exceptions to the ‘ordinarily,’ when are the exceptions to ‘the practice’ of the Title IX Coordinators,” she said. “That concerns us because we don’t want any exceptions to those.”

Still, Mahajan said the amendment to the compact is a “shift in the right direction.”

“Our advocacy, and from my perspective personally as well, is always going to be a balance between pushing for institutional change within Harvard and also tapping into the communities and students that we already have,” she said.

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

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