I would like to say a word about the recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education concerning sexual harassment at Harvard. This has been a difficult moment for this community and I want to start by acknowledging the real sense of hurt, disappointment and upset that has been expressed about the situation and about Harvard’s response –articulated by students, faculty, other members of the extended community, and in an editorial in today’s Crimson. A central commitment of my presidency has been to broaden access at Harvard and to ensure that everyone here fully belongs. This situation, and others, underscores that we have much more to do. But let me repeat what Provost Garber, Dean Smith and I have emphasized: sexual harassment has no place at Harvard and the community can rightly expect that Harvard will do all that it can to address this serious and enduring problem.
In recent years, the University has worked hard to create a robust infrastructure to address the problem of sexual harassment. We have an Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, designed to provide any member of the community who has experienced sexual harassment with a place to turn to receive confidential support and advice. We have created an integrated, professionalized and robust system to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, with highly trained Title IX coordinators across the campus and an expert investigative body in the Center. We have also established a University-wide committee to study the best means to prevent sexual assault and harassment from occurring, and the committee’s recommendations have made us better, more thoughtful, and more responsive.
Yet it remains the case that very clearly there is more to be done. And that starts by earning the trust of members of the community that they can turn to the University with the confidence that their concerns will be taken seriously, that they will receive support in difficult situations, and that the University will be responsive and fair. We need to acknowledge and work to address the cultural and structural realities that permit sexual harassment to occur. We need to acknowledge the profound influence members of the faculty have over junior faculty and students. Real consequences flow from that reality– the difficult place students and junior faculty find themselves in when a mentor crosses boundaries and the reluctance they understandably experience to come forward when concerns arise. All of us in this room share a responsibility to act in ways that acknowledge this imbalance of power. We need to foster an environment where those who look to us for leadership and guidance feel comfortable coming forward when lines have been crossed.
I have been encouraged in recent days by reports of the important conversations that have been taking place in the department of government about how we can together address these difficult and disturbing cultural and structural realities. This work is for us all.
Let me end on the subject where I started: we have much to do and, in the coming days, I will be engaging the senior leadership of the University to help determine how best to move forward.
I hope we will all commit ourselves to that effort.