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Op Eds

OSAPR’s Commitment to You, Even at a Distance

By Pierre R. Berastain
Pierre R. Berastain ’10 is the director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

Dear Harvard students,

I imagine you are beginning to adapt and find new routines as we have moved our world and interactions online. Typically, April is a busy month for us at the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, as we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month with keynote speakers, workshops, social media campaigns, in-person gatherings, the iconic Harvard Wears Denim day (which our Consent Advocates and Relationship Educators expertly organize every year), and Our Voices (a student-led performance organized in partnership with OSAPR).

This April, social distancing and the isolation of our current reality have challenged our OSAPR team to imagine different engagement strategies with our community. We have invested much time and effort in developing our social media engagement and online resources as well as structuring a series of online events, from Yoga for Restoration to Lunch and Learn sessions and Netflix and Chill with OSAPR. Nonetheless, we miss all of you; we miss the formal and informal conversations, the interactions at Communities of Care events, and all the tea you spill when you come to the office (figuratively and literally).

Our conversations as an office have also made us think of the many challenges you might be experiencing. We are all isolated at this moment in time, but that doesn’t mean we have to go through the challenges alone. If you don’t read any further, I want you to know that OSAPR is still available, our hotline is operational 24/7, and our staff can meet with those who wish to reach out.

Many of you, I imagine, now find yourselves in long-distance relationships, having to navigate the stresses of social distancing, classes, and communication with a partner who might be thousands of miles away. You might be balancing the need to “be there” for your partner and your own need to tend to yourself or disconnect from a world that is heavily dependent on virtual connection. Long-distance relationships can be challenging in non-pandemic times; our current reality adds a new layer of complexity. Similarly, many of you might be dealing with the stresses and difficulties that come from living with others, whether they be family members or friends. Such stress can strain our relationships and make us feel further alienated. Remember: We are here for you. Our services continue to be free, confidential, and non-judgmental.

I also recognize that the heightened dependence on technology raises a number of questions about how we interact with each other online. Is someone taking a screenshot of me while I’m in a Zoom class? Am I texting too much? Am I texting enough? How do I increase the security and privacy of the technology and apps I use? Those are questions we often receive at OSAPR, but our current online dependence has heightened people’s awareness of these issues. During the next few days, we will develop tips and resources around these and related topics, but in the meantime, I encourage people to visit our Tech Safety page. At these times — and really, always — it’s important to be reminded of two tenets of healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise: open communication and mutual respect. I encourage you to think about communicating your boundaries and respecting others’ spaces, to observe consent in your interactions, and to uphold your relationships with care and respect.

Lastly, please remember to take care of yourselves in ways that feel right to you. For some of us, taking care of ourselves might mean disconnecting from the virtual world; for others, it might mean baking cookies, singing in the shower, or not giving in to the pressure of “accomplishing” more during this pandemic. This is all okay. We are living in stressful and uncertain times, and we will all respond or cope differently. Just remember: the social distancing and isolation need not equate to dealing with this alone.

You might find yourselves in different time zones and thousands of miles away but remember that Harvard resources like OSAPR are still available for you. Our mission is to reduce sexual assault and interpersonal harm as well as to create communities that care for each other. That mission extends beyond the confines of Cambridge and well into the summer. We are here for you.

Pierre R. Berastain ’10 is the director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

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