Press Statement - April 3, 2014
Our Harvard Can Do Better Files Title IX Complaint against Harvard College
On Friday, March 28, 2014, a group of students from Harvard College filed a Title IX sexual assault complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. For the past year, the organizers of Our Harvard Can Do Better have been working with survivors and allies - including the author of this week’s Crimson op-ed, “Dear Harvard, You Win” - to document the ways in which Harvard has created and perpetuated a hostile environment on campus for many students and especially for survivors of sexual assault. The experiences recounted in Monday’s op-ed reflect systematic Title IX violations in Harvard’s accommodations, disciplinary processes, and training, and demonstrate the University’s continued dismissal of student input.
The experiences of the anonymous survivor who wrote “Dear Harvard, You Win” exemplify a greater campus environment of victim-blaming and university indifference. Harvard’s pattern of discounting the psychological and emotional trauma of survivors as legitimate grounds for academic and residential accommodations results in survivors being forced to live in the same dorm and eat in the same dining hall as their perpetrator and to remain in severely triggering academic settings at the expense of their well-being and educational experience.
Survivors with whom we have worked have repeatedly been given false or inadequate information from administrators about pursuing accommodations, including coursework extensions, no-contact orders, and housing changes. Survivors have regularly been discouraged from pursuing disciplinary cases. Those who did pursue a case sometimes were not notified before their case was heard and learned that the Administrative Board had proceeded only after hearing the verdict. Some survivors have received this verdict verbally without any formal written notice.
We acknowledge the recent steps Harvard has taken to reexamine Title IX compliance on campus. Nevertheless, Harvard’s consistent shunning of student voice on the issue of sexual assault policy has led us to believe in the need for an externally-imposed mechanism for oversight of the policy review process to ensure its accountability to survivors.
Last spring, Our Harvard Can Do Better posed a referendum question in the Undergraduate Council (UC) elections asking students, “Do you think Harvard should re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices?” The referendum passed with 85% of votes. In an effort to appear responsive to student voice in the wake of the referendum question, Harvard convened a Sexual Assault Resources Student Working Group but proceeded to ignore the suggestions of the students who participated. Students unanimously agreed to recommend policy revisions in the working group report, but the administration removed these policy recommendations from the final document before its presentation to the Dean of the College in disregard of student voice.
The outcome of the Student Working Group demonstrates the need for external oversight in order to ensure Harvard’s accountability to survivors. We call on the Office of Civil Rights to open an investigation to ensure that Harvard not only reforms its policies on paper, but commits itself wholeheartedly to creating a safer and more just campus.