Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

On November 29, the US Department of Education formally published proposed amendments to the regulations implementing Title IX, which, if adopted, could have implications for Harvard and for colleges and universities across the United States. The University is carefully reviewing the proposal and will be working to ensure that our concerns are properly conveyed by higher education associations that are planning to submit public comments.

I know that many of you are concerned not only about possible changes to our current policies and procedures, but also about how those changes might affect our efforts to create an environment in which all students, faculty, and staff can do their best work. I write today to assure you that I will not rest until Harvard has done all that it can to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment and assault, and to encourage people to share their concerns with confidence in the institution’s ability to act on them.

Next week, the Title IX Office and the Office for Dispute Resolution will issue their joint annual report, which offers an important foundation on which to build our efforts. I hope you will take the time to learn Harvard’s policies and procedures, as well as about the number of complaints filed during fiscal year 2018, the respective findings of those complaints, and the University’s response and prevention efforts. Over the past two years, more than 25,000 students, faculty, and staff have participated in in-person training sessions and our online Title IX training module, and all members of our community are now required to complete mandatory training on how to support a harassment-free community. A student liaison committee has been formed to ensure that each School community is represented in discussions about how the Title IX Office can improve its services across the University, and there are now more than 50 trained Title IX coordinators supporting our community. 

The events of the past year have underscored for me and for many other people that great institutions must work to protect and defend the people who make them great. Our policies and procedures, our choices and our actions, should be imbued with deep humanity and great care for one another. Work in this area is perennial. In March, Drew Faust asked the members of the Title IX Policy Review Advisory Committee, which was created in 2015 to assess the efficacy of the University Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment, to turn their attention to cultural and structural realities that permit sexual harassment to occur. Don Pfister, chair of the Committee, shared its suggestions with me earlier this semester, and I sent a detailed reply yesterday. 

At the highest level, the report and my response are about maintaining and improving trust through better communication, expanded support, and clearer reporting and policies. I encourage you to read both documents, which contain details about new and ongoing work in these areas. We must empower people to educate themselves about the issues and to understand the role that bystanders can play in intervening and preventing harassment. We must create the conditions where people feel secure in disclosing harassment when it does happen and to seek resolution. And we must keep this important conversation at the forefront of our discussions of what it means to be a community. This spring, we will conduct a climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct, in partnership with the Association of American Universities, that follows from the previous survey in 2015 and should help inform where Harvard may need to provide additional resources and support.

Creating a community in which all of us can do our best work is my highest priority as president. Everyone who calls this University home should be made to feel welcome and free from harassment, and each of us has an important role to play in ensuring that outcome. It will take sustained effort to make Harvard a place where our respect for one another infuses every aspect of our work. I hope you will take up that important task with me and with your colleagues across the University. 

All the best,
Larry