Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
A University community must foster the respect and civility that nurture exploration, learning, and discovery. Sexual assault is an affront to the personal well-being and dignity that rest at the heart of what Harvard seeks to be. In its threat to safety, sexual assault not only damages individuals but erodes the trust on which our work and lives together depend.
In recent years we have intensified our efforts to ensure we are responding as effectively as possible to reports of sexual assault and other unwelcome sexual conduct. For example, Harvard has expanded its resources to include a cadre of trained Title IX coordinators working in collaboration with the University’s new senior Title IX officer. This group will create and implement new and more robust policies addressing our responsibilities under Title IX legislation and the new Violence Against Women Act.
But we must do more than just meet our legal obligations. As members of the Harvard community, we have the responsibility to improve our efforts to prevent sexual assault from occurring and to make sure we are doing all we can to aid those who have experienced it. This will require us to make a forthright evaluation of our campus, to ask wide-ranging questions about the environment that enables sexual misconduct to take place and the nature and adequacy of our institutional response.
After consultation with deans and others over recent weeks, I have asked Steven E. Hyman, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology as well as our former provost, to chair a task force that will develop recommendations about how Harvard can improve efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and develop insight into these issues based on input from both within and beyond our community.
Dr. Hyman has a deep understanding of public and mental health issues, and during his tenure as provost was instrumental in the creation of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. The task force he will lead will include faculty and students from a range of schools across Harvard. This will be difficult but important work, and I am grateful to all the task force members who have agreed to devote themselves to it.
I believe that anyone in our community who hears the reports of those who have experienced sexual assault must share my sense of urgency to do all we can to address this issue. We must do better.
I am confident that the task force’s work and resulting recommendations will help reinforce our commitment to trust, respect, caring, and inclusion as fundamental tenets of an educational environment in which all have the opportunity to thrive.