An eight-month investigation
by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) concluded late last week
that Harvard College’s new policy of requiring students to provide “corroborating
information” before it will investigate their complaints of sexual
assault is not a violation of Title IX, the federal law that bars
discrimination in education on the basis of gender. However, the
DOE’s ruling was based on Harvard’s current policy, which has been
amended since it first went into effect in September of last year.
As reported in
September 2, 2002 issue of SATI e-News, Harvard raised the
standard of proof in disciplinary procedures governing rape and
sexual assault cases through a faculty vote in May of 2002.
Harvard wanted to avoid lengthy “he said-she said” disputes with
minimal evidence and few prospects for resolution, according to
survey of Harvard students’ health attitudes and behavior
conducted by University Health Services (UHS), in partnership with
the American College Health Association (ACHA), did find a
statistically significant rise in reported incidents of sexual
assault at Harvard last year, according to the Harvard Crimson.
The percentage of students who were involved in sexual touching
against their will increased to 9.7 in 2002, up from 7.6% in
2000. Of the respondents, 0.9 percent reported actual sexual
penetration against their will, while the national average was 1.8
percent in 2000.
Attorney Wendy J. Murphy filed a complaint with the DOE’s Office
of Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of a Harvard student. The
original policy, which passed by faculty vote in May 2002,
required eyewitness, physical evidence, and other “sufficient
independent corroboration”. The corroboration requirements have
since changed. Murphy believes that the DOE investigation helped
prompt these and other policy revisions, although a Harvard
spokesman declined to comment on Murphy’s assertion.
“sufficient independent corroboration,” Harvard now requires only
a list of “supporting information.” Murphy told SATI e-News
that “the elimination of the word ‘independent’ is important
because it means a student can ‘self-corroborate’.” According to
the Boston Globe, Harvard defines “supporting information”
as diary entries or conversations with roommates—virtually
anything that helps to corroborate a student’s account.
that other changes Harvard made to its policy since September are
significant. “The elimination of the word ‘sufficient’ means no
person at Harvard has discretion to weigh or determine whether the
‘supporting information’ rises to a worthy level,” she explained.
An additional change to the policy requires
Harvard to obtain a responsive statement from the accused student,
whether or not the accuser meets the standards of corroboration.
Harvard has also created a committee focused on education and
related uses around campus sexual assault policies. The UHS/ACHA
survey noted a significant increase in students’ perceived access
to information about the issue, with 82% reporting that they
received information on sexual assault and rape, more than any
other health-related topic and a ten percent increase from 2000.
encourages students to build coalitions on campus and work
together to ensure that campus disciplinary policies and
procedures are fair and effective. “At a minimum, students should
create their own data-gathering services, conduct their own annual
surveys and create their own “reports” of discrimination and
harassment on campus,” Murphy suggested.
Harvard is Violating Our Civil Rights" by Wendy Murphy. [view
finds no bias in Harvard’s revised policy on Sexual Assault,”
Boston Globe, April 2, 2003.
Survey Finds Depression Pervasive in College,” Harvard Crimson,
March 31, 2003.
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