Campus & Community

Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard releases report

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After eight months of intensive review, the Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard (CASAH), chaired by Professor of International Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine Jennifer Leaning, has released its report containing recommendations to strengthen the College’s educational and support services related to sexual violence on campus. The report will now undergo a period of public commentary and Faculty review.

“Sexual violence on campuses is recognized as a nationwide problem,” said Steven E. Hyman, University provost. “This committee has worked tirelessly to find ways to strengthen Harvard’s education and support services for victims of sexual assault. I plan to study carefully the committee’s findings.”

Hyman and Harry R. Lewis, dean of Harvard College, announced the formation of the committee last May, and it officially began its work in September. CASAH is composed of 10 Harvard faculty, students, and administrators, including medical professionals, House Masters, resident deans, and staff who work closely on issues of sexual violence.

The committee’s charge was to “review and make recommendations to the dean of Harvard College and the provost of Harvard University on all institutional support services for victims of sexual violence and all preventive, educational, and outreach programs to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in Harvard College.”

“CASAH has found an enormous interest on the part of many people to take this effort to the next level of focus and coordination,” said Leaning. “The Harvard community has devoted substantial time and resources to the problem of sexual violence on campus. Building on what has already been accomplished, we are encouraged to think that the steps we propose will make a real and positive difference in important aspects of undergraduate life.”

Current resources, future recommendations

The CASAH report focuses on ways to strengthen both educational and support services related to sexual assault.

The report, citing expert research, emphasizes the effectiveness of preventive education as a means of reducing sexual violence. Every first-year Harvard student currently attends the “Safe Community” meeting during Freshman Orientation, followed by entry-way discussions; they also have a host of literature and clinical or counseling services available to them through University Health Services (UHS), the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC), student organizations, and other venues.

The CASAH report recommends building on existing initiatives by extending educational efforts through the four years of a student’s time at Harvard. New education programs for freshmen would include the use of professionally trained facilitators during large and small group meetings. Sophomores would be engaged in further discussion on this topic as part of their orientation into their houses. The report also recommends creating educational programs and outreach to student leaders who can help shape a healthy campus climate.

The report also identifies the wide range of existing resources at Harvard and suggests the creation of a single College office to coordinate and streamline these educational and support efforts.

This office would serve as a clearly identified starting point to connect students with services and guide them through resolution of concerns related to sexual violence. Staff would be on call on a 24/7 basis, to ensure students receive the highest quality service in a timely fashion.

The report suggests that the designation of specific physicians at UHS and the BSC – as well as enhanced training for all Harvard faculty and staff who deal with students on sensitive issues – should help deliver timely care.

CASAH studied disciplinary procedures only as they intersected with education and support concerns. The report finds that, generally speaking, students feel more fully supported during unfolding disciplinary processes if their case moves swiftly, and if there is less overlap between the disciplinary, academic, and personal areas of their lives.

To this end, the committee recommends that the Ad Board make routine use of a single fact-finder, an option already available to the Ad Board and used in the past. This fact-finder, reporting to the dean of Harvard College, gathers information for all student-to-student complaints when the facts are in dispute.

“This would enhance the efficiency and speed of the process, offer consistency in the investigative process, and assign principal investigative responsibility to someone not involved with the personal and academic life of the students,” the report states.

Students would, as before, have the opportunity to appear in person before the Ad Board, and every complaint, as before, would be looked into.

Making a ‘real and positive difference’

Since convening in September, CASAH’s fact-finding and analysis has involved, in addition to monthly committee meetings and two daylong retreats, more than 60 confidential interviews and meetings with Harvard students, faculty, and staff. Represented were student survivors of sexual violence, members of 14 undergraduate organizations (social clubs, activist groups, service organizations), clinicians and counselors from UHS and the BSC, resident deans who serve on the Administrative Board, faculty members, and other administrators. The committee cast a wide net, reaching out to diverse groups and taking into account a variety of cultural and religious perspectives.

CASAH further consulted with local and national authorities in the field of sexual violence and attended local, national, and international conferences on these issues. CASAH conducted interviews with two Ivy League universities, gathered detailed information about prevention and response at the five other Ivies, and compiled information on the programs at other universities around the country.

“Harvard is not unique in the ways in which it is affected by issues of sexual violence,” the report notes. College campuses everywhere are a locus of intersecting forces: proximity between men and women in their living and learning environments, social norms (and greater access) concerning alcohol, and the playing out of developmental issues for college-age adults.

Attention at Harvard to issues of sexual violence has been especially focused in the past 15 years, reflective of trends in national awareness. In the wake of psychologist Mary Koss’ landmark 1987 study on nonconsensual sexual activity among college women, CASAH reports, “The early 1990s saw the advent of many new programs to address the problem at colleges across the country, along with the emergence of the study of sexual assault on a campus as a focus of several different disciplines.

“The topic of sexual assault on campus provides the occasion for Harvard to look closely at the way it is preparing its young people to recognize, value, and build mature and intimate relationships through time,” the report states. “This capacity can be taught, modeled, and reinforced in a thoughtful process designed to extend through the entire four years of undergraduate life.”

CASAH’s findings, available online at by the afternoon of April 17, will move through a period of public commentary until April 28, followed by discussion at the May 6 Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. On April 23, CASAH will host a meeting for the Harvard community to discuss the report, from 7-9 p.m. in Ticknor Lounge in Boylston Hall. Comments can also be directed to or mailed to CASAH, Office of the Dean of Harvard College, University Hall 1st Floor.

“The College is stronger for CASAH’s scrupulous examination of our resources and its thoughtful recommendations for change,” said Lewis. “Let me express my gratitude to the whole hardworking committee and its staff. I welcome community conversation on the committee’s recommendations.”