Sexual Assault Recommendations Put Social Life Under Microscope
This article is the first in a series about sexual assault prevention at Harvard.
Earlier this month, Harvard released a University-wide report on sexual assault prevention, providing insight into a campus issue administrators have called “deeply disturbing” and detailing a number of recommendations for future prevention that University President Drew G. Faust immediately accepted.
The 20-page report covers all of Harvard’s schools, but disproportionately focuses on the College and holds few punches in critiquing current measures, while providing a number of undergraduate-specific suggestions that are exhaustive and far-reaching.
House administrators praised some recommendations, including mandating sexual assault training for all students across Harvard. Other recommendations, like closing off certain entryways to Houses and dorms, “would not be feasible,” Adams Faculty Dean Sean Palfrey said.
Effective sexual assault prevention has been a top project for administrators in recent years. Although the report urges wide-scale change, many of the recommendations are already in progress, and now the College has formed two working groups to review the report and recommend a College-specific plan of action. They will submit their recommendations to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana by the end of the academic year.
PLANNING FOR PREVENTION
The two task forces have already begun meeting to implement the report’s recommendations at a College level, according to Assistant Dean of Student Life Emelyn A. dela Peña and Freshman Resident Dean Madeleine A. Currie. But, the process of reviewing the report is only just beginning, and will require hours of parsing through the recommendations and assessing what resources Harvard has available to carry them out.
One working group is comprised of students and is co-advised by dela Peña and Emily J. Miller, the College’s Title IX coordinator. The second working group, comprised of staff and administrators, is co-chaired by dela Peña and Christopher M. Gilbert, assistant dean of Dudley House.
Though the College already made progress on some policies suggested in the report even before its release, several proposals would significantly alter current practices if implemented.
The report recommended the College institute mandatory yearly sexual assault awareness trainings, urging that the trainings encompass sexual health, conduct, and alcohol policy, in addition to the short briefing freshmen receive on Harvard’s specific policies.
The report also recommends revising the trainings for tutors and proctors—who serve as on-campus residential advisers—in order to “Enhance residential staff training to focus on building trust and providing knowledgeable guidance to direct students to University resources.” More specifically, the task force recommends all resident advisers living in Harvard’s dormitories receive sexual assault prevention training and response education.
Currie said the College prioritizes improving trainings for freshmen proctors. This year, the Freshman Dean’s Office mandated all proctors receive annual sexual assault trainings, and the FDO plans to review these trainings. Currie added she would like to cover more topics pertinent to the BGLTQ community in these trainings and consult freshmen students throughout the process.
This semester, groups within the College began experimenting with new trainings to better educate students on issues of sexual assault. Adams House, for example, piloted a series of sexual assault trainings led by the Consent Advocate and Relationship Educators, undergraduates who serve as liaisons between the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and undergraduates.
“I think that as we start to assess some of the pilot programs we’ve had here… we’re going to start to refine how we put these things together, market them, invite students to attend, and how we get buy-in from the community,” dela Peña said.
The trainings for freshmen and proctors only make up part of the FDO’s planned efforts to implement the report’s recommendations. For the past year, the FDO has funded and organized a number of social events for freshmen to promote social life on campus, many in the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub.
“This year, thanks to the support of the Dean of the College and the Dean for Administration and Finance, we’ve offered more programming for freshmen that doesn’t involve alcohol,” interim Dean of Student Life Thomas A. Dingman ’67 said. Dingman added one of the FDO’s goals was to further increase social programming for freshmen.
The report’s authors also continually urged the same solution for many problems surrounding sexual assault that they identified: focusing social life into the Houses under stricter administrative control. They emphasize the roles that aspects of the undergraduate party scene—such as the College’s alcohol policy, party registration processes, and single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations—can play in mitigating or increasing the possibility of sexual assault. In particular, the report strongly denounced the “distinctive problems” that the College’s unrecognized and historically male final clubs present regarding sexual assault, such as creating spaces of gender discrimination.
But these criticisms and suggestions about focusing on House life are not novel.
One of the report’s recommendations, for example, calls on administrators to support a “shared campus culture” by rallying behind large, student-run social events. During the fall semester, months before the report’s release, Faust took the unusual step of allocating funds to Khurana’s office in order to promote inclusive campus-wide parties. Khurana then directed a portion of Faust’s lump sum to fund the “[BLANK] Party,” a free College-wide party hosted by women’s groups at the College last October.
More generally, talk of increasing “inclusivity” in Harvard’s social life has dominated administrators’ discourse in recent years.
“There have been a number of campus-wide events that have been very successful,” Associate Dean of Student Life David Friedrich said. “We’re continuing to do a lot of work there.”
Another suggested change calls for a re-calibration of undergraduate social life, placing emphasis on House-wide events instead of those hosted by unrecognized social organizations, which have come under fire in recent years for their perceived exclusivity. This task, too, is far from foreign to administrators.
Since 2013, the College has pumped millions of dollars towards House renewal, attempting to make the Houses a more attractive alternative to fraternity, sorority, and final club property.
Just this past year, some Houses like Adams have allocated rooms for students to hold private social events. Others have implemented streamlined party registration processes making it easier for students to throw dorm room gatherings. Both party spaces and registration processes were mentioned in the report as areas for improvement.
“We’re continuing to do a lot of work that has already begun, things like increasing funding for [events in] the Houses,” Friedrich said.
—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.
—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.