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Buffalo buffalo might buffalo other Buffalo buffalo, but we hope that Harvard students don’t buffalo other Harvard students.
It seems the administration agrees: Harvard recently released final versions of our first University-wide non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies. These policies, initiated by working groups formed following the graduate student union’s 2020 contract with Harvard, will take effect Sept. 1.
This historic moment speaks to the extensive power of labor on campus. Our love for labor is no surprise, but it goes beyond our fundamental belief in fair compensation. Unions create a palpable spirit of inclusion and solidarity that transcends issues of pay and benefits. Labor leaders have been some of our school’s fiercest responders to the egregious faculty misconduct that has littered the past years.
We must withhold our applause for the policies, however, until we can see the final sexual harassment and misconduct policies, which are scheduled for after the Biden administration releases its Title IX updates. A rigorous grievance procedure for sexual harassment complaints was one of the most prominent demands of the union when bargaining for their 2020 contract. Given the University’s record of lethargy and inaction, we hold little hope for Harvard’s final sexual harassment resolution procedures to meet this standard.
At a University where the news is inundated with reveals of abusive figures on campus, we welcome the policies’ formal framework for resolution. But, as we have previously written in the context of sexual harassment, bullying is a cultural problem, not a policy one.
Cultural problems require cultural fixes. Policies enacted by an impersonal, sprawling bureaucracy should not dislocate students from their essential role in creating a better, kinder, more inclusive Harvard.
We believe deeply in the power of student self-governance — in the great things that students can achieve when given the freedom to articulate and realize a vision for this campus. The future leaders that Harvard intends to educate must lead themselves now, through the formative cycle of trying, failing, and growing.
As each Harvard school develops the underlying structure to support the University-wide policies, we encourage the schools to consider how they can implement these policies in collaboration with — rather than in the stead of — their communities.
Successful community-centered organizational models for reconciliation abound. For example, restorative justice circles — a practice with deep historical roots in Indigenous communities — bring together affected parties, supporters, and facilitators in constructive dialogue aimed at sharing feelings and repairing harms.
At Harvard, this practice could look like a confidential, Honor Council-like entity embedded in Houses, academic departments, or other administrative units — or a Harvard Ombuds Office-led mechanism for convening restorative justice circles. For issues pertaining to larger groups, town halls or open forums could be held.
These suggestions should not be taken to mean that all or even most disagreements will be well-suited to community-led mediation. Many serious disputes, especially those that rise to the level of harassment or discrimination, have good reason to remain confidential. Goals for student leadership should not be prioritized above the needs of students who have been harmed.
Nevertheless, we feel there is a wide expanse of issues — wider than many might think — across which community mediation can find purchase. Too often, we shy away from conflict resolution conversations based on false assumptions that they are too difficult to adjudicate and that we are not qualified. But we have faith in the ability of our peers to engage thoughtfully and respectfully on matters with real stakes.
And even if we aren’t perfect mediators yet, this is simply another skill to attempt, blunder, and learn from in college. As we have argued over the years, students must be willing to engage in productive discourse. The same principle holds when it comes to the community we call home, the community made out of each individual one of us, constantly striving for more.
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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