under the new policy regime...

On July 2nd 2014, Harvard announced a new university-wide policy for all sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints. Starting in the fall of 2014, all complaints against a student of the University (across any school) should be brought to the newly formed Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution (ODR), which will operate under the University Title IX Office.

Both informal and formal complaints will be filed with the ODR. Here at OHCDB we have no knowledge of how the processes will work beyond how it is detailed in the official procedures, so for the time being we direct you there. Below are important features of this new policy to keep in mind:

  • A complaint may be filed by proxy, meaning that persons other than survivor who have knowledge of an assault may file a complaint. 
  • A complaint may be filed at any time after the assault. 
  • In a formal complaint, the investigator will be gathering evidence in order to judge whether Harvard's new university-wide policy on "unwelcome conduct" has been violated. In the language of that policy, "Conduct is unwelcome if a person (1) did not request or invite it and (2) regarded the unrequested or uninvited conduct as undesirable or offensive." It remains unclear whether this new university-wide policy completely overrides the policies at each of Harvard's schools, including in the Handbook of Students.
  • The complainant can choose an administrator from their division to serve as an advisor during the process and accompany them during all interactions with the ODR.
  • Once the ODR investigator has come to a verdict about whether a violation of Harvard's policy occurred, that result is then passed to the disciplinary body of the relevant school (whether that's the survivor's or perpetrator's remains unclear) to assign sanctions. In most cases at the College, that means the Ad Board will still be determining the appropriate sanctions. 
  • Appeals to the ODR's verdict on a formal complaint currently can only be appealed if "1. A procedural error occurred, which may change the outcome of the decision; or 2. The appellant has substantive and relevant new information that was not available at the time of investigation and that may change the outcome of the decision." 
  • A complainant may switch between a formal and informal complaint (or vice versa) at any time DURING the process. After a formal complaint or an informal complaint has been SETTLED, one cannot then pursue the other kind of complaint.
  • The person against whom an informal complaint is filed must AGREE to the ODR's proposed resolution before its implementation. 

under the old policy regime, with unclear relevance going forward...

There are at least two paths to pursuing accommodations from Harvard – a formal process through the Administrative Board of Harvard College (Ad Board), which can include seeking disciplinary action against the perpetrator, and an informal process for interim accommodations. Even if you do not want to pursue any accommodations or disciplinary action, reporting your assault to the director of OSAPR or Title IX coordinator helps Harvard assess the incidence of assault on campus accurately.  

The following administrators are available for advising on your options at Harvard, and for support and advocacy on your behalf in the Ad Board process and informal accommodations process:

  • OSAPR director Alicia Oeser (617-496-5636)
  • College-wide Title IX coordinator Emily Miller (617-496-9578)
  • College-wide Title IX coordinator Will Cooper (617-495-1942)
  • University-wide Title IX coordinator Mia Karvonides (617-495-4134)

Your resident dean will be involved in both formal and informal accommodations processes. Your Resident Dean usually represents you before the Ad Board and may be involved in securing or orchestrating informal/interim accommodations as well, although these will chiefly be pursued through the Title IX office.  

SASH advisors exist and should be able to provide moral support throughout the process. However, given the College’s idiosyncratic processes and training procedures, SASH advisors may not always have the most current information about accommodations procedures.  

Informal Process 

Survivors should note that Harvard currently has no documented, standardized procedure for informal complaints and the kind of accommodations granted during this process have varied widely among survivors. OHCDB is advocating for this to change, but currently, pursuing an Ad Board case is the only process in which disciplinary sanctions against the perpetrator, residential accommodations such as moving the perpetrator to a different house, and academic accommodations such as modifying a transcript or professors being required to allow work to be made up are guaranteed to be available.     

Nevertheless, Title IX directs the College to work to respond to informal complaints with interim measuresto prevent sexual assault from standing in the way of your education whether or not you choose to pursue an Ad Board case. In an informal process, you work with OSAPR, the Title IX coordinator, your resident dean, and/or your professors, depending on the form of accommodations that address your needs. You can initiate this process at the Title IX office.

The current official policy as it has been explained to us is that no contact orders are available without an Ad Board case, do not require providing details about the assault, may be requested from the College Title lX coordinators, and should be implementable within 24 hours of submitting the request.  Additionally they are supposed to last for the duration of both parties' undergraduate careers and have no location limit.

Accommodations Many Survivors Find Helpful

  • Moving the perpetrator to a different entryway or House. Title IX recommends that as a matter of course, the perpetrator should be moved and not the survivor.  
  • The College issuing a no-contact order. (See above for procedure.) 
  • Removing a perpetrator from a class or extracurricular activity in which the survivor is also enrolled or participates.  Again, as a matter of course the perpetrator should be moved and not the survivor. 
  • Switching the survivor’s courses to avoid triggering classroom settings.
  • Modifying the survivor’s transcript or allowing make-up work to compensate for periods in which mental or physical health impairments interfered with academics. If an Ad Board case is not pursued, this and similar accommodations can fall to the discretion of the professor of the course in question.  

Disciplinary Sanctions Against the Perpetrator

When the perpetrator is a classmate or former friend, it is common for survivors to hold off on an Ad Board case for fear of ruining the perpetrator’s life. Whether or not to subject the perpetrator to risk of potentially severe disciplinary penalties through an Ad Board case (as well as the potentially more severe penalties resulting from a civil or criminal caseis a personal choice that will be different for every survivor. Survivors should note that milder sanctions, like mandatory consent reeducation training or probation, are much more common at Harvard than suspension or expulsion; in fact, the Ad Board almost never issues expulsion as a sanction for sexual misconduct cases. Petitioning the Ad Board for, e.g., academic accommodations, can go forward without bringing a disciplinary case against the perpetrator.  

Ad Board Process

A “peer dispute case” is the language the Ad Board uses for disciplinary cases. This flowchart depicts the process. Note that the Ad Board currently uses a “sufficiently persuaded” standard for deciding verdicts.  This standard is not defined on the Ad Board website but students should be aware that it is a higher standard than the “preponderance of evidence” standard recommended by the federal government and used at many peer institutions (the preponderance of evidence standard requires it to be more likely that the assault occurred than not). This standard is likely to change next fall. When pursuing an Ad Board case, Our Harvard recommends that survivors be proactive in communicating with their resident dean during the Ad Board case. In particular, we recommend that survivors:

  1. Ask their resident dean for the date when the Ad Board will be meeting to review their case before handing in their statement.
  2. Ask their resident dean for a written record of the verdict when being told the verdict verbally. 

The Ad Board procedure for “petitions” is less complicated (these are generally decided during a single meeting of the Ad Board, and the student does not have to appear in person). A survivor might wish to pursue a petition rather than a peer dispute case if they are only seeking, for example, academic accommodations. The procedure is described here. You will still be represented by your resident dean, and we still recommend making the same requests as above.   

Your Title IX Rights

Title IX, a federal law preventing discrimination based on sex, recognizes that sexual assault on a college campus creates a hostile environment for the survivor that the college has an obligation to mitigate. If you feel that Harvard instead created or exacerbated a hostile environment for you in any way, be it by ignoring an experience you reported, denying you accommodations you needed, issuing inadequate sanctions against the perpetrator, engaging in victim-blaming behavior or using victim-blaming language, you have further options. Please contact us and see the resources below. 

A Title IX complaint is a litigation-free, court-free mechanism to secure your Title IX rights. To file a complaint, you simply document the ways in which you experienced a hostile environment at Harvard. Title IX complaints are filed with the Office of Civil Rights, a regional offshoot of the Department of Education.  Upon receiving a complaint, the OCR will investigate Harvard’s conduct and attempt to come to a voluntary agreement with the College to remedy the Title IX violations you documented. Remedies can include the College enacting accommodations that you had previously been denied.  

A Title IX civil lawsuit is, as the name suggests, a lawsuit filed against the College. While a complaint can be filed by any individual on behalf of a survivor, only a survivor may file a lawsuit. You may file a lawsuit instead of a complaint or after a complaint (if the outcome was unsatisfactory). While filing a complaint does not require legal representation, an attorney is necessary to file a lawsuit.  

KYIX explains in more detail what Title IX requires colleges to do and the best practices it suggests, what kinds of institutional behavior violate Title IX, and how to file a Title IX complaint and lawsuit.  KYIX also explains the pros and cons of a complaint versus a lawsuit.

VRLC has extensive experience with legal matters including but not limited to Title IX complaints and lawsuits surrounding the issue of survivors’ rights on campus.

Legal Voice is a women’s rights advocacy organization that provides legal assistance for Title IX. The organization can also be contacted for legal information about Title IX and filing a lawsuit.

ACLU has done much advocacy for Title IX; each state has a local affiliate. You can contact your local affiliate to obtain legal assistance. 

Making Change on Campus

Think the above options at Harvard are inadequate, confusing, and potentially revictimizing? For more information about our campaign to change policy at Harvard, see here. For information about change on the national level, check out Ed Act Now.