UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Harvard’s new sexual assault policy should be re-evaluated

Harvard University has found itself in hot water over its new sexual assault policy. The policy, created in July and taking effect this fall, saw the creation of the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution which, according to The Boston Globe, will, “handle sexual and gender-based misconduct complaints against students ‘ranging from persistent or pervasive harassment in a lab environment, for instance, to a rape.’”

28 Harvard Law School faculty members have come out against the policy. In an op-ed piece, the faculty writes, “we strongly endorse the importance of protecting our students from sexual misconduct and providing an educational environment free from the sexual and other harassment that can diminish educational opportunity.”

However, the faculty members go on to add, “We believe that this particular sexual harassment policy adopted by Harvard will do more harm than good.”

The faculty members express their dissatisfaction with, what they believe to be, policies “which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.”

The faculty also expressed their displeasure with the idea of housing the authority of investigation, prosecution, and review in a single office.

Sexual assault, especially on college campuses, has been a major topic of discussion. In the realm of sports, sexual misconduct by athletes and the responses by both school administration and local authorities have been scrutinized over the past year. Cases involving Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, University of Florida quarterback Treon Harris, and former University of Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons have received national media coverage.

With this media coverage comes almost-immediate convictions of guilt in the court of public opinion. In the case of Winston, who was not charged after state attorney general of the Second Judicial Circuit in Florida Willie Meggs determined that the evidence provided was not sufficient enough to determine a likelihood of conviction, the constant loom of being accused of sexual assault has hurt his stock not only in the NFL draft, but in the eyes of the media and public as well.

With this increased media focus on high-profile sex crimes on campus, it is reasonable for Harvard to update its sexual misconduct policy. However, the faculty members at Harvard provide solid evidence in the argument against the new policy. Not for a lack of trying, the newly formed sexual misconduct policy fails in that it tried too hard to follow the ever growing desire for political correctness in the country.

That isn’t to say that there should not be a strong sexual misconduct policy; by all means, if any student on campus does commit a sex crime they should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, despite the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” in our judicial system, it is shown quite clearly (especially in the high-profile sports cases) that public opinion will quickly turn to an almost-immediate conviction of guilt, even if the suspected person is being falsely accused.

We need to be aware that the accused deserve a fair and equal trial with reasonable representation, which the faculty claims the policy does not provide. The concentration of investigation, trial, and appeal in a single, newly-formed office does not indicate a system that provides a fair hearing/trial for the accused.

Again, this is in no way implying that accusers, both male and female, are lying. Every accusation of sexual misconduct is serious and should be treated as such; however, it is only fair to be able to provide the accused with an honest, unbiased investigation, trial, and (if necessary) appeal. Harvard’s new policy does not provide this and as such it should be reevaluated to ensure that both accusers and the accused are offered a fair and honest system.