The Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard (CASAH) was created in May 2002, under the joint auspices of Harvard College and the Office of the Provost, to help ensure that students have access to the most effective range of educational programming, preventive measures, and support services related to sexual violence on campus. This 11-member committee, chaired by Jennifer Leaning, professor of international health and assistant professor of medicine, and consisting of Harvard students, faculty, and staff, is committed to engaging the Harvard community – and experts beyond – in earnest conversation about students’ experiences related to sexual violence, with an eye toward assuring that students’ needs are addressed in the most effective manner.
“We are committed to preventing sexual violence at Harvard, to educating students about it, and to supporting and caring for our students who have encountered it,” said Steven E. Hyman, provost of the University. “This committee will provide us vital guidance on how to strengthen our efforts in all of these areas.”
“I am very grateful to Professor Leaning and the members of this important committee for agreeing to devote the months ahead to seeking the best ways for Harvard to educate undergraduates about sexual assault, to support victims of sexual assault, and to promote a safe and respectful environment for all of our students,” said Harry R. Lewis, dean of the College.
CASAH, whose members were appointed this summer, and which met for its first monthly meeting in September, has launched an ambitious yearlong plan to thoroughly assess conditions at Harvard and offer recommendations to the College and Provost’s Office by the end of the academic year. Schools nationwide have engaged with the complex nature of sexual violence on campus.
In addition to ongoing meetings with students, faculty, staff, and health professionals, including Boston-area experts in sexual violence, CASAH is conducting confidential house-based discussions with students to learn more about their concerns. Committee members are also available for private sessions with individual students.
“Our goal in these outreach efforts is to hear from students in whatever setting allows them to feel comfortable about sharing experiences of a private, and sometimes distressing, nature,” said Leaning. “Whether it’s e-mail, phone, in person – we will travel through rain or snow. Whatever it takes, we will try.”
As part of a broader effort to stimulate conversation about sexual violence, CASAH members are also meeting with campus groups focused on these issues. These groups include the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV), the Sexual Assault Working Group, SASH (Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment advisers), and those involved with the “Building a Safe Community” program, which is required for all first-year students. CASAH also maintains an e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a Web site (http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~casah/), on which it posts updates and a bibliography, with recommended readings on sexual violence.
“We would like to foster a genuine and ongoing discussion on these issues throughout the Harvard community,” said Leaning. “Learning to understand one’s own feelings about personal relationships, and learning how to understand what other people feel, are core tasks of human development. We hope to provide a context and normative tone for this inquiry, but the exploration, undertaken with mutual respect and self-awareness, needs to continue throughout a student’s years at Harvard.”