Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
In April 2014, I convened a University-wide task force to develop recommendations to combat the serious problem of sexual assault affecting our students. Today, Harvard’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault, led by Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and our former provost Steven E. Hyman, issued its final report. I accept its thoughtful recommendations, which promise to advance Harvard’s efforts in important ways. I will work with the deans and my colleagues in the central administration to address each of the areas the task force has identified.
As an academic community, we are dedicated to the possibilities of transformation—intellectual and personal—that are inherent in the search for knowledge. Sexual assault and harassment threaten those possibilities and undermine core institutional values. As the task force observes throughout its report, any effective prevention program must therefore start with an understanding of “what it means to be a citizen of this campus and the nature of our responsibilities to one another.” Addressing sexual assault, reinforcing community norms, and helping one another thrive are obligations we all share. For my part, I will continue to insist that sexual assault and sexual harassment have no place at Harvard.
The task force’s report speaks to Harvard’s most foundational aspirations and commitments. The recommendation for more regular, values-based training recognizes that students help shape—and to a significant extent are responsible for—the cultures in which they live, play, and study. The clear and powerful call for the University to address issues presented by final clubs relates not only to sexual assault but also to the implications of gender discrimination, gender assumptions, privilege, and exclusivity on our campus. The need to bolster support for members of the BGLTQ community is important because of what the sexual conduct survey told of their distressing experience here and at other universities. But it matters equally as part of broader and ongoing efforts at Harvard to foster a community in which all members are fully respected and fully belong.
I recognize, as does the task force, that the recommendations are not and cannot be the last word in Harvard’s efforts to combat sexual assault. Our practices and policies will need to evolve as we learn from the experience here and elsewhere. In that spirit, the position recommended by the task force will serve a vital role. Together with other University and School-based offices, including the Title IX Office and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, it will be responsible for ensuring that we continue to devote sustained attention to the problem of sexual assault, that we continue to engage the entire community in our collective mission of prevention and culture change, and that we regularly and systematically ask ourselves how we can do better.
In their work over the past two years, the members of the task force have served as exemplars of the ideals of engagement and commitment called for by their report. Their prior two sets of recommendations have already made a difference, as will the ones in the final report the University now moves to implement. Their work in helping to organize and administer the AAU survey gave Harvard, and many other research universities, a strong empirical base on which to ground actions and, in the future, to measure their success. I am enormously grateful to Dr. Hyman for his careful and effective stewardship of the task force and to its members for their contributions in helping to address an issue that touches at the heart of who we are.
For more information, please see today’s related news release.