Harvard's Sex-Assault Policies Are Under Federal Investigation, And Yet Another Title IX Violation Is Suspected

In response to a federal complaint filed March 28 by two Harvard students, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is launching an investigation into the esteemed college's handling of recent sexual assault cases. According to The Harvard Crimson, the complaint alleges that Harvard's sexual assault policies violate Title IX. It includes testimonies from 10 student survivors who say the administration's actions created hostile environments that failed to keep them safe.

Student-activist group Our Harvard Can Do Better has been leading the push for sexual assault reform at the Ivy League school. Student member Jessica Fournier, one of the filers of the federal complaint, told The Crimson that the letter addresses the school's disciplinary system for sexual violence cases, as well as the "informal" accommodation process for survivors — which includes everything from course extensions to housing changes.

Fournier added that the group is looking to standardize the school's accommodation process and change the burden of proof to "the preponderance of the evidence." Currently, the school's policy is that the board must be “sufficiently persuaded” by evidence before it can take action.

The federal complaint came on the heels of an anonymous, first-person essay published in The Crimson. Titled "Dear Harvard: You Win," the essay details the aftermath of a sexual assault that occurred on campus in 2013. Opening by stating she's sitting in the dining hall only a few tables away from her assailant, the writer admits that she's "giving up" after being forced to live in the same student-housing facility as her attacker for the last nine months:

I’ve spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably. ... I developed an anxiety disorder shortly after moving back to my House this fall, and running into my assailant up to five times a day certainly did not help my recovery.
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Following the news of the federal complaint, Harvard President Drew Faust created a task force to not only improve the university's handling of sexual assault cases, but to also help the administration understand the "realities of the impact of sexual misconduct on individuals and the community." Faust added that the administration is looking for new ideas on education, outreach and prevention.

Harvard isn't the only Ivy League dealing with reports of sexual assault misconduct. Just four days ago, 23 students at Columbia University filed three separate federal complaints alleging systemic misconduct of sexual violence cases and inadequate treatment of survivors. Students told The New York Times that university staff routinely push survivors to stay quiet rather than report their abuse. When students do report, they said, they receive a lack of support from the university.

“Perpetrators are allowed to reschedule the hearing multiple, multiple times, and survivors are not,” student Zoe Ridolfi-Starr told the paper. “So we’ve seen cases where perpetrators who delay so long that survivors are forced to stay over the summer for a hearing and pay for housing.”