Harvard will form a new Office for Gender Equity, which will bring together existing resources previously housed within the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (OSAPR) and the Title IX Office, Provost Alan Garber announced today in an email to the University community.
The Gazette spoke with the director of the new office, Nicole Merhill, who is also Harvard’s Title IX coordinator, and Maria Francesconi, the senior director of Nursing and Health Promotion, to learn more about the community conversations and data analyses that led to the decision to unite OSAPR and Title IX, as well as what services and resources will be available to Harvard community members once the new office is fully operational later this summer.
Nicole Merhill and Maria Francesconi
GAZETTE: What is the new Office for Gender Equity, and how was it formed?
MERHILL: The decision to bring together OSAPR with Title IX to create the Office for Gender Equity, which will report to the Office of the President and the Provost, was based on significant analysis of both data and service delivery, and on conversations with an array of community members and groups across Harvard.
The Title IX Office and Harvard University Health Services (HUHS), which has overseen OSAPR, have been hosting a series of conversations over the past few months with students, faculty, postdocs, and staff about how the University can better meet the needs of community members around issues of sexual assault/harassment and other sexual misconduct.
During these conversations, we explored themes that arose from the results of the Harvard 2019 AAU Student Survey on Sexual Assault & Misconduct, including a need to streamline access to resources, better communicate about the resources that are available, and expand on prevention efforts.
We also drew upon recommendations from the recently released report of the External Review Committee to Review Sexual Harassment that suggested the University should improve upon its communication and cohesion of access. Student groups such as Our Harvard Can Do Better, which we’ve met with frequently over the past year, have also expressed a need to reexamine the resources offered within the University and pointed to potentially centralizing resources for community members within one office.
GAZETTE: What else did you hear in these recent community conversations about what was most important to people?
FRANCESCONI: Students, postdocs, staff, and faculty alike spent significant time reflecting on existing services, what has worked well from both offices, and where our opportunities are for improvement in our service throughout the community. They highlighted the importance of high-quality and easily accessible crisis counseling and other supportive measures, and the continued expansion of prevention work, including increased opportunities for bystander intervention programming. We also heard that the Title IX Office’s recently launched Resource for Online Anonymous Disclosure (ROAD) online reporting tool was very important to our community members and that collaborative educational initiatives that touched on the work of both Title IX and OSAPR were particularly insightful.
GAZETTE: What are you most hopeful about, in terms of new opportunities for Title IX and OSAPR to exist as one office?
FRANCESCONI: Certainly, having all of our resources centrally located will make it easier for community members to access the information, and the support, that they need. The Office for Gender Equity will be implementing an innovative public health approach to the existing shared mission of OSAPR and Title IX, and it will bring together the strengths of both existing offices in more cohesive ways. Working together, we will be able to more effectively share best practices, diverse areas of expertise, and perspectives, which will serve our commitment to find new ways to connect with, and support, our community.
GAZETTE: What services will the office provide once it’s established?