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Harvard sexual-assault task force recommends nonstop training, eradication of male-only clubs

More surveillance of dorms and off-campus groups

A Harvard University task force released its final report on sexual-assault prevention, and without hesitation, President Drew Faust approved its recommendations in an email to the campus.

Many will closely scrutinize what students do on and off campus and make sexual assault training mandatory. Several will go into effect by the start of the next school year, The Harvard Crimson reported.

Though the final report itself is mum on what to do about Harvard’s “final clubs,” the mutually-exclusive social organizations dating back to 1784 and boasting famous alumni, an appendix linked to the report argues that students should not be able to remain enrolled if they participate in a male-only, male-led club.

In 2014 Faust ordered the creation of the task force after a federal investigation began on the school’s Title IX compliance. The task force, consisting of students, faculty and administrators, released two interim reports in the 2014 and 2015 spring semesters.

The final report comes after an Association of American Universities survey last fall judged that 31 percent of participating female Harvard seniors – or 172 women – had experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact” in college.

More than just freshman orientation training

Education is a centerpiece of the task force’s recommendations, but it is not optional.

The task force wants all students to participate in mandatory training at least once a year. It would not just occur during student orientation, but throughout the year for both undergraduates and graduates.

Because dormitories were the most common setting for reported assaults as identified in the AAU survey, housing staff would have to complete training to hold these conversations in the dorms. More specifically, conversations would focus on alcohol use’s relation with sexual assault, responsibilities of bystanders and “healthy sexuality.”


More regular training could come in the forms of residence hall discussions, an undergraduate course, a PowerPoint that professors could show early in the semester and student-created social media campaigns. The task force also asked the university to look into online training.

For campus group leaders and athletes, small-group training would be mandatory. In addition, funding of student events would be “contingent on inclusion of basic sexual assault information.”

Final clubs: For dropouts only?

The recommendations would follow students outside the classroom.

While the task force has no jurisdiction over final clubs, it urged the university to address problems associated with them and other “single-sex social organizations.” Specifically, it wants the university and the clubs to work toward ending “discriminatory membership practices.”

The task force came to this conclusion not only from the AAU survey results, but from outreach interviews with female students. The interviewed students reported experiences from “unwanted advances to involuntary sexual encounters to comments and actions that contribute to a harmful sexual culture on campus.”

“While many institutional issues related to gender inequality were addressed in the 1970s-’90s, partly through the merger of Radcliffe with Harvard, male-only Final Clubs are a vestige of gender inequity that also perpetuates a significant divide on campus,” the report reads. It noted that Greek organizations have similar implications.

The Outreach and Communications Subcommittee’s December report, an appendix to the full report, went much further.

In a passage highlighted by the Washington Free Beacon, the subcommittee gives Harvard two options for allowing final clubs going forward: “Either don’t allow simultaneous membership in Final Clubs and College enrollment; or allow Clubs to transition to all-gender inclusion with equal gender membership and leadership.”

Clubs that transition would have to “provisionally” register themselves “for monitoring … have ongoing (annual, mandatory) sexual assault education and assigned sober bystanders at social events,” the subcommittee recommended.

Evening, officer

But although the full task force specifically calls out gender-exclusive organizations, other rules could affect any student living or participating in events on campus.

The task force asked to reduce entry points in dorms, and “students entering and leaving the buildings would need to pass a security officer who would be trained to detect students in need of help and resource availability, including safe transport.”

The report also urges more control over social events. For example, it recommends the university prohibit third-party vendors from selling hard alcohol at large events like the Harvard-Yale game.

It urges the university to move parties such as the Freshman Formal onto campus. The university could then determine party rules, since student groups wishing to hold parties would also need to receive standardized training on how to host safe parties. The program, formerly known as Party Savvy, is currently optional.

The task force asked for the university’s “tolerance” in implementing these changes, “some of which will undoubtedly prove unsuccessful.”

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About the Author
Emily Leayman -- Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.