On Monday, the Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, posted an anonymous letter written by a student and sexual-assault survivor. The student details the aftermath of the alleged assault that occurred last year, and discusses how Harvard University administrators profoundly failed her. (This sort of thing is hardly unique to Harvard; rape and sexual assault on college and university campuses across the country is a huge problem, as is too often the administrative response to such cases.) The letter, titled “Dear Harvard: You Win,” was published one day before the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Here is an excerpt (read the whole thing—which is obviously tough to get through—here):
More than anything, I’m exhausted from living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.
I’ve spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably. Several weeks ago, in a grey room on the fourth floor of the Holyoke Center, my psychiatrist officially diagnosed me with depression. I did not budge, and I was not surprised. I developed an anxiety disorder shortly after moving back to my House this fall, and running into my assailant up to five times a day certainly did not help my recovery.
Dear Harvard: I am writing to let you know that I give up. I will be moving out of my House next semester, if only—quite literally—to save my life. You will no longer receive emails from me, asking for something to be done, pleading for someone to hear me, explaining how my grades are melting and how I have developed a mental illness as a result of your inaction. My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened. Today, Harvard, I am writing to let you know that you have won.
The last time I met with my resident dean, I told my dean about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty. I said that it would be immensely helpful for me to know that my dean, not as a school official but as a human being, understood my pain and empathized with it. I asked my dean to take a step back from the situation and to admit that I had not been served well by the Harvard system. My pleas were met with a refusal to comment and an argument that it was not an administrator’s role to criticize Harvard’s sexual assault policy.
If my resident dean refuses to question the current policy we have in place, then I will. Dear Harvard: You might have won, but I still have a voice. And I plan on using it as much as I can to make things change.
In response to this letter, the Undergraduate Council, Harvard College’s student government, announced the formation of a task force to involve students in discussion of Harvard’s sexual assault policies.
Harvard University public affairs did not respond to Mother Jones‘ request for comment.
UPDATE, April 3, 2014, 4:48 p.m. EST: A Harvard alumnus forwarded Mother Jones an email from Drew Faust, president of Harvard, announcing a presidential task force. The president’s statement was sent out to the Harvard community on Thursday. Here’s an excerpt:
After consultation with deans and others over recent weeks, I have asked Steven E. Hyman, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology as well as our former provost, to chair a task force that will develop recommendations about how Harvard can improve efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and develop insight into these issues based on input from both within and beyond our community.
I believe that anyone in our community who hears the reports of those who have experienced sexual assault must share my sense of urgency to do all we can to address this issue. We must do better.
(h/t Jessica Testa)