Beyond the Minimum Standard: Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Training at HKS


Harvard took the first of many steps necessary to create an environment safe from sexual harassment and sexual assault during this semester’s orientation.  As representatives of a culture where 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college, it is naive to believe our one-hour discussion solved the problem.  Some may dismiss this as a gender issue or pretend our high quality and mature recruits prevent this problem from crossing our lofty threshold.  

While Harvard has yet to collect the data necessary to evaluate this claim, we would be foolish to think all staff, faculty, and students are moral and respectful people.  The odds are sexual harassment and sexual assault takes place within our community and likely occurs at Harvard events.  The cruel fact is that most victims of sexual assault know their perpetrator, meaning we cannot blame this tragedy on strangers around campus.  In this young coed environment that embraces alcohol at so many professional and social events, the risk of offenders using alcohol as a weapon is particularly high.  Our Harvard family cannot allow offenders to hurt one of our own and we must establish a climate of trust and support for all our brothers and sisters.

Coming from the U.S. Army, I expected to be challenged during our orientation sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention training, but was disappointed in the current program and culture at Harvard.  Despite what we may hear in the media, the Army is light-years ahead of Harvard in terms of its quality and frequency of training and its culture of intervention and support.  While our orientation training scratched the surface of the issues, the ambiguous case studies and general unfamiliarity with the concepts prevented my group from understanding a moral crime was likely committed in the scenarios.  And my discussions in the broader HKS community found this was a common phenomenon across the training sessions.  Hearing future leaders blame the victim or excuse the aggressor concerns me greatly and demonstrates an annual hour-long discussion is not enough to change Harvard’s culture.  With such a diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds, countries, and cultures it will take multiple sessions to bring us all to a common understanding of the problems and solutions.

Additional optional training will not fix the problem since those most in need of change will likely not attend.  Only more frequent mandatory training can raise awareness, change our collective conversation, and create a culture of intervention. Mandatory training for all students, staff, and faculty must include clear cut definitions and examples, predator tactics, prevention and intervention techniques, support and resources available to victims, and HKS discipline procedures, plus encourage reporting so we can better understand the local problem.  Fortunately, student organizations such as Harvard Students Demand Respect are working with the administration to overcome our deficiencies.  Although our orientation training may have covered the bare minimum legal requirements, I’m positive Harvard will lead the nation in improved quality and frequency of training.

The views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense or U.S. Army.