Earlier today, Harvard Provost Alan Garber released new and amended University policies and guidelines on non-discrimination and anti-bullying. Each has been approved by the Harvard Corporation and comes after a nearly yearlong community review period that took input from students, faculty, staff, and researchers across the University. The changes will go into effect on Sept. 1 and will be implemented by a working group led by Sherri Charleston, Harvard’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.
To learn more about the new policies and what changes the Harvard community will see, the Gazette spoke with Charleston and Peggy Newell, the University’s deputy provost.
Sherri Charleston and Peggy Newell
GAZETTE: The policies and policy updates released today are a culmination of a process that started in January 2021 with the provost’s creation of a Steering Committee for University Discrimination and Bullying Policies and three related working groups. Can you share a little about why the University has focused on policies in these areas and how the committee arrived where we are today?
NEWELL: It’s important to remember that the University already prohibits illegal forms of discrimination, so that piece isn’t new. What is completely new today, though, is a University-wide policy on bullying. There have been mechanisms by which severe forms of bad behavior could be punished, but there has never been an explicit policy on bullying.
We started this process because members of our community — particularly students — expressed that they felt we did not have a well-defined pathway for addressing concerns, and if they had a concern, did not know where to go with it. It was largely prompted by the Harvard Graduate Student Union (HGSU-UAW) asking us to establish University-wide policies in these areas, in addition to other existing policies. In part, the release of the policies today stems from the commitment we made to HGSU-UAW.
The process to get us to today was extensive, largely because we knew it had to be inclusive. These are policies that apply to faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and other academic workers, across every one of our Schools. We had to have a process that considered and engaged all those constituencies. It also had to have a generous amount of time for community input, and we received a fair amount of community engagement on this.
Part of this process was also a focused review of the existing policies on sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct. Though the changes that were agreed on in the review process were approved by the Corporation for implementation in September, we anticipate that updates to Title IX regulations from the U.S. Department of Education, expected to be released in May, will require that we make additional changes to our policies and procedures to ensure we are compliant with federal requirements. To avoid confusion, we will not be releasing the updated Title IX and sexual misconduct policies and procedures until any additional changes required under the anticipated new Title IX regulations are incorporated and approved.
CHARLESTON: I would just underscore something that Peggy mentioned, which was the desire to make sure there was transparency in this process. When I arrived in 2020, and considerations related to these policies were already well underway, what I was hearing from members of the community was a desire to understand more clearly how these policies would be developed and how the community would be involved in shaping them. The University recognized this need and was responsive to it with robust community engagement.
GAZETTE: The policies that were released today will be implemented starting on Sept. 1. Can you give us a window into what the next few months will look like as you prepare for implementation, and then what the community can expect starting in the fall?
CHARLESTON: In the cross-University working group that we’ve assembled, we’ll spend the better part of this current semester examining various structures across the University and trying to figure out how the policies on nondiscrimination and bullying intersect with local policies within the Schools. It will be up to each School and unit to develop the local structures to undergird the policy and adapt it to be responsive to the unique cultures within each of their local environments. By September, we expect to have a structure developed that can support the policies’ implementation. Members of the community interested in checking on our progress can go to the Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging website to see the policies, frequently asked questions, and periodic updates.
NEWELL: There are a lot of things that still need to be done in a relatively short amount of time. People are going to need to be hired and trained, handbooks and other materials need to be updated, and websites need to be created and changed to ensure we are meeting the need for clarity and understanding around the policies and the supporting procedures. None of that work could have been done before these policies were approved.
CHARLESTON: As Peggy alluded to, we will need to spend considerable time thinking about how we engage the broader community in learning what is and is not covered under the policies. Educating the community on the policies and clarifying and creating a shared understanding of what is meant by terms such as bullying and discrimination will be ongoing work.
An important thing to keep in mind is that this will be a progressive implementation, and it’s going to take a few years of refinement. To that end, we want to make sure a constant cycle of quality improvement is embedded into the rollout process, so that as we refine it, we’ll really figure out how to maximize our efficiency and awareness of resources and procedures. What we see on Sept. 1 will not be the final product; it will be the beginning of a cycle of continuous improvement.
GAZETTE: The provost’s message talked about not just implementing these policies, but also culture change. How can these policies and the work in the coming months be instrumental in changing culture?
CHARLESTON: When we think about culture change, we’re talking about creating better structures and better habits. How do we create better structures that enable us to have better habits? That’s what it means to develop a healthy culture.
OEDIB leads our University-wide efforts to create a culture where everyone can thrive. The soon-to-be created office that will support these policies will be focused on developing the structures that will undergird our efforts as a community to maintain strong and inclusive habits. As we implement these policies and policy updates, this new office will support the Schools and units in establishing local structures. It will also lead the development of the educational tools and data-tracking systems we’ll rely on as we implement the policy across campus.
NEWELL: People focus a lot of their energy and their attention on policies. Policies can put you on notice about what kinds of behaviors are not allowed and can possibly deter some people who fear the consequences of violating policy — but they don’t by themselves create a culture. The things that Sherri just described are critical to that. But every one of us is critical to that as well. If we want a community in which everybody can flourish, we all must try to contribute to that culture.
GAZETTE: Is it significant that these are University-wide policies? Why is that important, and how will Schools and units play a role?
NEWELL: Students and faculty increasingly work across Schools at Harvard. A student in a classroom could be sitting next to a student from another School, and the professor could be from a third School. When this was coming together, I think everybody agreed that there should be one set of overarching University-level policies, in addition to the local standards that many Schools have.
CHARLESTON: There are very few University-wide policies, and these are University-wide policies that went through extensive community review and community comment, and extensive review at every level of the organization from the deans all the way up to approval by the Corporation. That is incredibly significant and demonstrates the commitment of this institution to thinking about how we maintain a healthy culture. So, I think, both for its symbolic and functional significance, this is an incredibly important step for our institution.
Over the past few years, we have all seen the importance of public health approaches in helping to keep whole populations healthier. I think that these approaches can also help inform how we can create a healthier culture. A public health approach focuses on the well-being of entire communities, regardless of their individual backgrounds. It requires input and contributions from across disciplines and depends on collective action. Similarly, if we want to create a healthy culture where everyone can thrive, everyone benefits, then everyone must have a part.
We have different cultures within the Schools across the Harvard community, and each has its own unique cultural undercurrents. But I think it’s significant that we’re all committed to the same values, which means ensuring that we have a community where everyone feels respected. I think that these policies give us the tools that we need to make that process a little bit more tangible, and much clearer for members of our community.