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Where is the Urgency on Sexual Harassment?

By The Crimson Editorial Board

Year after year, we ask Harvard to do more to combat the issue of sexual misconduct that pervades this institution and its culture. Year after year, another professor’s misconduct comes to light. We’ve written about this in 2011, eight times in 2018, five times in 2019, three times in 2020, three times in 2021, and three times in 2022, only three months into the year. We’ve written so much on this topic that it is difficult to find a new angle to address. The overwhelming, despairing feeling is that it just shouldn’t be this complicated.

Thirty-nine years after the first formal complaint against former Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez, Harvard released a report detailing the circumstances that had enabled Domínguez’s actions. This report outlined 10 recommendations to improve the University’s sexual harassment protocols. More than a year later, Harvard has failed to fulfill three of them. The most urgent obstacle to progress, then, seems not to be the complexity of the problem or the impenetrability of potential solutions. Instead, it’s a lack of urgency.

What we have repeatedly asked of Harvard, and what we now ask again, is to institute the concrete policy changes that are needed to prevent sexual assault. When the University fails to do this, we are left with mistrust in a system that should be designed to keep us safe. The policy recommendations are there; Harvard needs to find the urgency required to move faster.

In addition to policy change, it is important to remember that an anti-harassment culture is our ultimate goal. Policies may help prevent incidents and offer help to victims, but we need to focus on the root of the issue as well: How can Harvard prevent a culture that has spawned so many harassment incidents in the first place? The University, to its credit, recognized the role of an anti-harassment culture in its recommendations, and we hope it takes that commitment seriously.

One crucial step in doing so is to find a way to convince students that the University feels deep and genuine regret for its failure to institute adequate preventative policies and for allowing a culture of apathy to fester for so long. Apologies can only meet that standard if they are paired with a greater urgency toward making concrete changes than the University has so far displayed.

As students, we, too, have a role to play in resisting apathy. When we see headline after headline surfacing new misconduct, it can be tempting to become acculturated. When we only think about sexual misconduct in its aftermath, it is tempting to focus on reactive policy changes rather than proactive steps to dismantle our toxic culture. We all need to actively play a role in changing our harmful culture of indifference toward sexual harassment.

To the student and faculty leaders of departments, houses, and student organizations, we ask that you think carefully and articulate explicitly the standards, expectations, and cultural norms that you want to govern your organization on issues of sexual assault and harassment. Having this conversation openly can help kick-start a new culture of change, one with an urgency commensurate to the immediacy and tragic stakes of the problem at hand.

Time and time again, we have written about this topic. It seems simple. Don’t sexually assault or harass students. Don’t sexually assault or harass peers. Don’t sexually assault or harass co-workers. Don’t sexually assault or harass people. But to solve a problem of this magnitude, whatever its complexity, we have to care.

Students, faculty, organizations, administrators: We all need to feel an urgency adequate to the problem at hand.

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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