Grappling with Campus Sexual Assault, Harvard Looks to Expand Prevention Efforts
A new report calls on Harvard to implement mandatory yearly sexual assault prevention training, among other recommendations
A semester after a survey revealed the alarming prevalence of sexual assault on Harvard’s campus, a task force has recommended that students receive annual sexual assault prevention training and that the University hire a new administrator to spearhead prevention efforts.
In a wide-ranging report released Tuesday, the task force also asked the University to expand sexual assault support for BGLTQ students across Harvard’s schools and more closely scrutinize the “deeply misogynistic attitudes” of the College’s historically male final clubs.
Last semester, an unprecedented University-wide survey pulled back a curtain on the prevalence of sexual assault at Harvard, prompting students, professors, and administrators to call on the University to do more. After months of deliberation, the same task force that organized the survey has released a final and comprehensive set of programmatic recommendations to confront “the profoundly and upsetting harmful problem.”
In an email to Harvard affiliates Tuesday afternoon, University President Drew G. Faust accepted the task force’s recommendations, many of which will go into effect by the start of the next academic year.
“I recognize, as does the task force, that the recommendations are not and cannot be the last word in Harvard’s efforts to combat sexual assault,” Faust wrote. “Our practices and policies will need to evolve as we learn from the experience here and elsewhere. In that spirit, the position recommended by the task force will serve a vital role.”
In its report, the task force—composed of professors, administrators and students from around the University whom Faust appointed to study sexual assault prevention on campus—offers a wide-ranging and frequently critical assessment of the “deeply troubling” realities of sexual assault across Harvard’s 12 schools, with a particular focus on the resources and social scene of the College.
The report calls on the College to develop “a plan to address the problems presented by Final Clubs,” sponsor more social events for students, increase grants provided by Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors, and limit the number of entry points to dorms and Houses so that a security officer may screen students as they enter and exit.
The report is the culmination of almost two years of work that that began when Faust asked Steven E. Hyman, former University provost and biology professor, to chair the task force. To date, that task force has released two interim reports and helped conduct a sexual climate survey that found that 31 percent of undergraduate senior female respondents at the College had experienced some kind of sexual assault during their four years at Harvard.
Now, in its final report, the task force has offered a set of concrete recommendations for cultural and structural change in both the short and long-term.
“There is no single or simple solution to such a widespread, deeply entrenched problem,” the report states. “Progress will take time and will require the continued and consistent commitment of leadership at both the University and School levels.”
A COLLEGE FOCUS
Citing the College’s residential nature, unique social scene, and younger students, the task force focuses many of its recommendations on Harvard’s undergraduate population and the College—the only one of Harvard’s schools specifically mentioned.
The task force frequently, and candidly, criticizes the “domination of the social scene by Final Clubs, with a lack of social spaces that students perceive as more inclusive” and points to creating more accessible social spaces as a partial remedy. Specifically, the report calls for more College-sponsored social engagements for undergraduates and suggests that Harvard continue to emphasize and support House social life as well as consider “temporary alternatives and pop-up spaces” in the short-term.
“Space — who controls it, what is allowed within it, who finds it attractive — shapes the possibilities for social interaction,” the report reads. The report cites October’s [BLANK] Party and the Annenberg Halloween Party as models for events that create a “shared campus culture.”
But while advocating for more undergraduate social space, the report also proposes that programs to expedite and fund gatherings be conditioned on completion of sexual assault prevention and alcohol awareness training. The currently-optional training on hosting safe parties should be mandatory, the report recommends, and funding for events should be contingent on completion of such programming, with the possibility of bonuses for more in-depth training.
The task force also devoted a section of the report to combating underage alcohol use at the College, writing that “there is no question” that alcohol increases the risk of sexual assault. The report asks that dorms and Houses decrease the number of entry points so students would have to pass a security officer “who would be trained to detect students in need of help.” It also calls for the College to update its online “Harvard Proof” programming for freshmen and to collaborate with local bars and businesses to “reduce the likelihood that students under 21 are served.”
The report suggests examining policies that would discourage the consumption of hard liquor. “Penalties worth studying need not be draconian — the goal is to bias drinking away from its most dangerous forms,” the report states.
The task force endorsed a number of alcohol-related interventions that have already been implemented at the College, including moving Freshman Formal back on campus, increasing the availability of food and non-alcoholic beverages at parties, and prohibiting third-party vendors from selling hard alcohol at large events like Harvard-Yale.
The report also contains a lengthy indictment of final clubs, addressing the “disturbing practical and cultural implications they present in undergraduate life” and asking the College to develop a concrete plan for addressing those issues. The report expresses strong support for final clubs to expand membership to all genders. Referencing Harvard-specific survey data, the report expresses concern that students participating in final club activities report higher rates of sexual assault than others.
A Harvard-specific supplement to the original sexual climate survey found that 47 percent of female College senior respondents who had participated in final clubs—which includes both interactions as a guests at male final clubs and as members of the female clubs—had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since entering college, compared to 31 percent of female senior respondents on the whole.
The main report also includes a critical note on Greek life at Harvard, which now includes four sororities and five fraternities. Forty percent of female College senior respondents involved in Greek organizations reported nonconsensual sexual contact, a higher-than-average statistic. The task force invited more scrutiny into fraternities and sororities.
A UNIVERSITY-WIDE REPORT
Nearly six months after a sexual climate survey revealed what Faust called a “deeply disturbing” prevalence of sexual assault on campus, the task force report diagnoses some enabling factors of sexual assault—including what it characterizes as the ubiquity of hard alcohol and insufficiency of preventative training—and offers a number of potential remedies.
The report emphasizes sexual assault training that Harvard students receive as an immediate area of improvement. Most mandatory education about sexual assault and alcohol use only occur during first-year student orientation; now, the report recommends, education about sexual assault should occur annually and take place in small groups to improve quality.
“We believe that a single session devoted to sexual misconduct, especially delivered as a component of general orientation, is not sufficient to help students internalize the University’s expectations of them as members of this academic community,” the report reads.
In addition to more robust training and education efforts, the report recommends that the Provost’s office hire a permanent new staff member “responsible for ensuring that the University and the Schools regularly evaluate and improve their prevention efforts.” While several administrators focus on sexual assault prevention and training, the report identifies the importance of an additional central administrator to develop a long-term approach and coordinate efforts between the Title IX office, the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and other offices.
“It is hard to imagine how such a long-term focus can occur without having a dedicated person responsible for ensuring that the University remains focused on the inevitably evolving requirements of an effective prevention program at a complex institution,” the report reads.
The task force asked that the new administrator assemble a working group to coordinate University-wide prevention efforts, plan future surveys about sexual assault at Harvard, and oversee annual reports from each of Harvard’s schools about prevention.
The report emphasizes the importance of awareness and understanding of Harvard’s sexual assault and sexual harassment policies and resources. Last semester’s survey revealed that a minority of students at Harvard knew about or trusted how the University handles complaints of sexual assault. The task force proposes several new initiatives to bolster awareness and trust, such as an anonymous form through which students can ask questions about sexual assault resources.
“Based upon the AAU Survey and the Task Force’s outreach findings, it is clear that we have fallen short in making students aware of how sexual misconduct is defined, where to get help when sexual assault or other misconduct occurs, where and how to report incidents, and what is likely to happen after an incident is reported,” the report reads.
Building on the survey results, which found higher incidences of sexual assault among students identifying as LGBAQN—lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, questioning, or not listed—the task force acknowledged it needs to learn more about the specific needs of BGLTQ students. It suggests that each of Harvard’s graduate and professional schools begin to offer resources to BGLTQ students similar to those in place at the College.
Though the report provides a slew of recommendations to more effectively prevent sexual assault at Harvard broadly, it leaves the implementation of those recommendations to the schools themselves.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
While the report represents Harvard’s most exhaustive effort to confront sexual assault on campus, it was not the task force’s first action, nor will it be Harvard’s last.
Faust created the task force in 2014 as the federal government opened an investigation into the College’s compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX. The task force, split into three subcommittees—one dedicated to outreach, another to the survey, and one to research—quickly began its work.
In its first set of recommendations from May 2014, the task force doubled OSAPR’s budget and proposed conducting the sexual conduct climate survey that has now informed the final report. It also released a second set of interim recommendations, which, among other proposals, called for more funding for late night transportation for students.
Initially set for a January 2016 release date, Faust emailed out the final report Tuesday afternoon after almost two additional months of deliberation.
The report states that Harvard should continue to conduct surveys to gather data and evaluate the effectiveness of its sexual assault programs and effort.
“Surveys should be conducted at regular intervals to measure and inform ourselves about how well the University and the Schools are accomplishing our goals,” the report reads.
While this will be the task force’s final action, the report emphasized that more work remains to be done.
“We anticipate that the recommendations in this, our final report, will make a difference in the culture, climate, and experience of students at Harvard,” the report finishes. “But, as we have emphasized, they are first steps in a process that will require sustained attention, a commitment to experimentation and innovation, and tolerance for trying new approaches, some of which will undoubtedly prove unsuccessful.”
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.
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