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Results of Harvard AAU Student Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

This past April, Harvard students, and their counterparts at 32 other universities nationwide, were asked to complete the 2019 AAU Student Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. Today, in partnership with the Association of American Universities (AAU), Harvard is sharing the results of the survey.

Most critically, the data support the reality that sexual assault and sexual harassment remain a serious problem at Harvard, and at institutions of higher education across the country. Since 2015, when Harvard conducted a first iteration of the AAU survey, the prevalence of sexual assault at Harvard, and among the 21 institutions that also participated in 2015, persists at the same level. This is profoundly disturbing. We must do better.

Each individual who calls this University home should be made to feel welcome and free from sexual assault and harassment. We must do more to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment and assault, and to encourage people to come forward to share their experiences and their concerns with us. And we must not rest until every member of our community has confidence in their institution’s ability to support them. This responsibility starts with the University leadership, but we can only truly effect meaningful change with your ideas and your commitment.

I’m encouraged that Harvard students are an engaged community. Our University’s response rate to the 2019 survey was nearly 15 percentage points higher than the average of the participating AAU member institutions. We have a real opportunity to learn from these responses, as the University did following the 2015 survey, and to implement lasting changes.

Since 2015, more than 65,000 of our students, faculty, and staff have participated in in-person training sessions and/or our online Title IX training module. In fact, everyone who studies and works at Harvard is now required to complete mandatory online training on how to support a harassment-free community. We now have more than 50 trained Title IX Coordinators supporting Harvard’s students, faculty, and staff community-wide. Last year, a Title IX Student Liaison Committee and Title IX Staff Liaison Committee were formed to ensure that each School and Unit is represented in discussions about how the Title IX Office can improve its services across the University. And this past week, the Title IX Office launched an online anonymous disclosure form as an additional tool for reporting an incident.

Still, we have much more work to do. This year’s survey showed an overall increase between 2015 and 2019 in awareness of the University’s increased resources, but it also showed an alarming number of Harvard students who reported that they did not access these resources following an incident of sexual assault. We must find ways to break down these barriers to access.

I’m grateful to Title IX Officer Nicole Merhill, Deputy Provost Peggy Newell, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School Kathleen McGinn, and all of the members of the AAU Survey Steering Committee for their work and the recommendations they’ve submitted to my office. One of the major points: the high rate of nonconsensual sexual contact experienced by Harvard students requires a cultural shift across our community. According to the survey, more than 80 percent of incidents of sexual assault involved alcohol, and more than 75 percent of the incidents involved an offender who was a fellow student. Two thirds of incidents of sexual assault experienced by undergraduates took place in on-campus housing. The survey’s findings urge us to find ways to reduce these alarming numbers with programs that engage community members in action. Initiatives like bystander training, which have been piloted in places across the University, send the message to students that sexual misconduct is not acceptable. I have asked the Title IX Office to oversee the expansion of more of these bystander intervention initiatives across the University. Harvard is also playing a leading role in the broad conversation across higher education on how to use surveys such as this one to enact change. As a member of the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Action Collaborative’s Evaluation and Assessment working group, Harvard is helping focus efforts on data driven approaches to addressing sexual and gender harassment.

A change in culture can only come about through shared efforts by the administration, faculty, staff, and students. Let’s begin this work, together, this Thursday, October 17 at 6 p.m. in Science Center Hall C when I invite all members of the Harvard community to a Town Hall conversation around the results of the survey. The Longwood campus will also host a simulcast of the Town Hall from Snyder Auditorium in the Kresge Building at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Kathleen and Peggy will guide you through the initial analysis of the data. I encourage you to ask questions.

One of my highest priorities is to create a community in which all of us can do our best work. To achieve this, we must seek to enhance our policies and procedures, and build out new resources, that are marked by our humanity, and which remind us to care for one another. But most importantly, we must recognize that we all have a role to play in ensuring that each of us who calls Harvard home feels welcome, and safe.

All the best,