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Harvard Releases Drafts of First University-Wide Non-Discrimination, Anti-Bullying Policies

University Provost Alan M. Garber first convened the Discrimination and Bullying Policy Working Groups and Steering Committee in January 2021.
University Provost Alan M. Garber first convened the Discrimination and Bullying Policy Working Groups and Steering Committee in January 2021. By Sydney R. Mason
By Cara J. Chang and Isabella B. Cho, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard released a sweeping set of proposed changes to its bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment policies on Thursday — including drafts of the first school-wide non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies.

The proposed policy changes, sent to Harvard affiliates on Thursday by University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, come 14 months after the school convened a set of working groups tasked with reviewing the school’s policies governing discrimination and harassment complaints.

The working groups proposed new University-wide policies defining non-discrimination and anti-bullying and laid out resolution procedures for the first time. They also recommended that Harvard update its definition of consent to require “active, mutual agreement” in its Title IX and sexual misconduct policies.

The working groups were comprised of Harvard faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates as part of a “community-driven effort to examine how we address discrimination and harassment at Harvard,” Garber wrote last January.

Three of the working groups — the Title IX Policy and Other Sexual Misconduct Policy Working Group, the Non-Discrimination Policy Working Group, and the Anti-Bullying Policy Working Group — developed separate reports and submitted them to a steering committee last summer.

The groups were overseen by a steering committee made up of 15 faculty and top administrators responsible for synthesizing recommendations into a report for President Lawrence S. Bacow, Garber, and the deans of Harvard’s 11 schools.

All four reports were submitted to Harvard administrators fall 2021.

Non-Discrimination & Anti-Bullying Recommendations

Currently, Harvard’s non-discrimination policy covers several identifying categories protected under federal and state law, including race, religion, and national origin. It does not cover disability issues, which would be processed by the University Disability Resource Center Grievance Policy, or sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, which falls under the Title IX and other sexual misconduct policies.

The proposed new policy defines discrimination broadly as “adverse treatement of an individual based on one or more of the protected characteristics listed in this policy.” It goes on to specify two main forms: discriminatory disparate treatment and discriminatory harassment — singling out individuals for less favorable treatment and offensive conduct, respectively.

The proposed anti-bullying policy does not limit its protections to specific categories, serving instead to fill in gaps left by other policies. The policy would define bullying as “harmful interpersonal aggression by words or actions that humiliate, degrade, demean, intimidate, and/or threaten” individuals.

Both new proposed policies would include informal and formal resolution processes.

“When appropriate and possible, members of the Harvard community are encouraged to speak directly with one another about any concerns,” both policies read, adding that individual schools and work units as well as the Harvard University Ombuds Office have resources for informal resolution.

Under both policies, anonymity would only be an option under informal avenues.

To file a formal complaint under either policy, a complainant would have to notify “Local Designated Resources” — point people in specific schools and units individuals can reach out to — or the “Central Office” overseeing non-discrimination and anti-bullying procedures.

Both proposed policies recommended a central office to handle complaints, but offered few details about what the entity might look like.

Under the new proposed policies, once a complaint is filed, the Local Designated Resource would review the complaint. If the complaint proceeds, the Local Designated Resource would assign a Harvard-trained investigator to organize a full investigation and submit a final report to a panel, which would make a final determination. At least one of the panelists would have to come from outside of the school involved.

Parties may appeal decisions to the Local Designated Resources or the central office.

Consent Definition

The working groups recommended that Harvard adopt a new definition of consent requiring an “active, mutual agreement” — as opposed to its former definition of “assent, approval, or permission.”

The rollout of the University’s sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination policies will be partially dependent on the Biden administration’s announcement of new Title IX reforms, which are expected later this month. The administration previously said it would revisit Trump-era procedures on sexual misconduct — including a controversial feature requiring schools to allow respondents and their representatives to cross-examine complainants.

Next Steps

The University will now commence a “comment phase” in which Harvard affiliates will be able to provide feedback on the new policies, per Garber’s Thursday announcement. The phase will be open until the end of September.

After the comment period closes, school deans and University administrators will finalize the policies before forwarding them to the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — for a vote, according to Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

Garber wrote in Thursday’s announcement that he hopes input from Harvard affiliates will strengthen the drafted policies.

“There will be a wide range of views about how best to approach such important and challenging issues, but I firmly believe that the process of deliberation and debate will help us craft a set of policies that reflect and reinforce our values and advance our aspirations as a community,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

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