After four years of extensive administration efforts to address sexual assault, the results from the student survey on sexual assault and misconduct, a product of the Association of American Universities, are in — and the statistics haven’t changed. Almost a third of Harvard undergraduate women reported having experienced nonconsensual sexual contact — the upper bound of the reported national range.
As students of the University, we are saddened and horrified that in the past four years there has been no statistically significant movement in the fight against sexual violence on our campus. The responsibility to propel cultural change falls all members of our community. We implore the University to reevaluate both its administrative policies as well as the culture it perpetuates so that it not only seeks change, but achieves it.
To some extent, these statistics reflect a broader rape culture endemic to American society, but we cannot allow that to excuse our actions and the community we are all responsible for building. Here are two tangible ways the University and its affiliates might address these issues:
Firstly, the University should modify current programming and trainings aimed at combating sexual misconduct on campus to incorporate statistics from this sexual misconduct survey and personal narratives from affected students. Many of our peers have written bravely about their experiences with sexual misconduct on campus, and have detailed the ways in which trauma stemming from these experiences has deeply impacted them. We believe combining the presentation of these narratives with these disturbing statistics will serve to both humanize and raise the stakes of the issue.
Secondly, all Houses should standardize party safety trainings and require that hosts undergo training for alcohol safety, sexual violence, and bystander prevention. As we have previously opined, there are marked disparities in culture between Houses, and while we laud individual Houses and House leaders who have worked hard to produce tight-knit, safe, and open communities, the College needs to consider how to bring those advances to the rest of the College. Issues of gender-based and sexual misconduct and violence are no exception.
Beyond the specifics of these issues, it bears mentioning that these statistics may not tell the whole story. For many, completing the survey this past April may have been traumatic and as a result, some individuals may not have taken it to completion. It may not therefore be fully representative of the community as a whole and all those who have experienced inappropriate and violent behavior.
Furthermore, the survey highlights the fact that many undergraduates still do not feel comfortable coming to the University with concerns related to sexual misconduct, despite being aware of the resources they may turn to. While the recently released anonymous online Title IX reporting form Harvard may begin to address the problem, the University should evaluate why reporting mechanisms already in place have not been working. The decades during which figures like Economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez were able to engage in “unwelcome sexual conduct” on campus speaks to the depth of the difficulties in reporting such actions. We call on Harvard to consider the aspects of its processes that allow power dynamics, undermining language, and a fear of retaliation to discourage people from reporting sexual misconduct on campus, and to work rigorously to rectify these shortcomings.
Surveys only yield information; statistics are not solutions. Harvard — its administration and broader community — must prioritize the issue the AAU survey brings to light. That begins with University policy, but it also requires the effort, self-reflection, and courage of all Harvard affiliates.
We will continue to advocate such change until we realize what we all know to be true: Our Harvard can do better.
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.