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Running head: CRISIS OPINION PAPER

Crisis Opinion Paper


Bobby Helton
Seattle University

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

In a world where violence is becoming more and more commonplace in


institutions of higher education, an unfortunate reality that student affairs administrators
must face is how to deal with such acts if and when the situation arises. With the recent
attacks at University of California, Santa Barbara and Seattle Pacific University, gun
violence is, rightfully so, a hotly debated topic at higher education institutions. Certainly,
these incidents deserve the attention they are receiving. However, one must not discount
the ways in which other acts of violence are impacting campus communities. Sexual
violence against women on college campuses is an everyday reality that, until recently,
was all but ignored by college administrators. Third wave feminism has played an
instrumental role in bringing attention to the prevalence of sexual assault on college
campuses. Despite the increased awareness, college campuses are still a hotbed for acts
of sexual violence. As a result, sexual assault prevention efforts and accountability have
been discussed at the national level. National media has extensively covered recent cases
of sexual assault, and the United States Federal Government has extended efforts to
decrease the amount of sexual violence on college campuses.
Among one of the most widely covered accounts of sexual assault happened to a
woman at Harvard. In an article titled Dear Harvard: You Win (Anonymous, 2014), a
female college student recounted her experience of being sexually assaulted in her
residence hall. In her story, Anonymous stated the following:
He was a friend of mine and I trusted him. It was a freezing Friday night when I
stumbled into his dorm room after too many drinks. He took my shirt off and
started biting the skin on my neck and breast. I pushed back on his chest and
asked him to stop kissing me aggressively. He laughed. He said that I should just

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

wear a scarf to cover the marks. He continued to abuse my body, hurting my


breast and vagina. He asked me to use my mouth. I said no. I was intoxicated, I
was in pain, I was trapped between him and the wall, and I was scared to death
that he would continue to ignore what I said. I stopped everything and turned my
back to him, praying he would leave me alone. He started getting impatient. Are
you only going to make me hard, or are you going to make me come? he said in
a demanding tone (Anonymous, 2014).
As with most sexual assault cases, the victim knew her rapist. According to the Rape,
Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately 2/3 or rapes [are]
committed by someone known to the victim (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
[RAINN], 2009). This is an especially noteworthy statistic for college students, as it
debunks the notion that most sexual offenders are nameless and faceless.
Due to unique institutional context and policy regarding what constitutes sexual
assault, the victim received almost immediate pushback from Harvard administrators.
Shortly after Anonymous assault, she made the decision to report the incident to her
residence hall staff. Upon disclosing the incident, Anonymous was told by a senior level
administrator that the Administrative Board was, very unlikely to issue a charge
against [the] assailant and to launch a thorough investigative process because [the]
assailant may not have technically violated the schools policy in the student handbook
(Anonymous, 2014). Although the assailant pressured Anonymous into sex and
physically harmed her, this instance did not fall within Harvards definition of sexual
misconduct. According to the policy, which was established in 1993, the University
defines indecent assault and battery as unwanted touching or fondling of a sexual nature

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

that is accompanied by physical force or threat of bodily injury (Sexual Assault and
Other Sexual Misconduct). However, due to the policys lack of clarification regarding
consent, the victim was warned that if a claim were filed it would likely be dropped since
her situation did not technically fall under the Universitys narrow policy of sexual
assault. Because of the policy, the assailant is still enrolled at Harvard. In fact, at the time
of the assault, the victim and the assailant resided in the same residence hall. Recognizing
that the administration was not going to discipline her attacker, Anonymous attempted to
at least gather enough administrative support to have her attacker moved to a different
residence hall. Instead of obliging, Harvards administration urged the victim to relocate
instead.
Consequently, Anonymous began to go through a personal crisis. As a result of
her sexual assault, as well as the way Harvard administrators responded to the incident,
the victim fell into a deep depression. Despite extensive therapy and an increased dosage
of anti-depressant medication, her mental state continued to worsen. In her article,
Anonymous described her condition by stating:
I am weeks behind in the three classes Im taking. I have to take sleeping pills
every night to fall and stay asleep, and I routinely get nightmares in which I am
sexually assaulted in public. I cannot drink alcohol without starting to cry
hysterically. I dropped my favorite [extracurricular activities] because I cannot
find the energy to drag myself out of bed. I do not care about my future anymore,
because I dont know who I am or what I care about or whether I will still be alive
in a few years. I spend most of my time outside of class curled up in bed, crying,
sleeping, or staring at the ceiling, occasionally wondering if I just heard my

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

assailants voice in the staircase. Often, the cough syrup sitting in my drawer or
the pavement several floors down from my window seem like reasonable options
(Anonymous, 2014).
Undoubtedly, the victims mental state qualifies as a crisis. From a persistence and
retention standpoint, this incident is also a crisis. As a result of her sexual assault, as well
as the lack of support from the administration at Harvard, the student decided to leave the
university altogether.
On an institutional and administrative level, it seems as though Harvard did not
make an effort to accommodate the victim or take her claims seriously. As mentioned
previously, the student spoke to residence life staff and high-ranking administrators with
no success. Philip L. Dubois (2006), former President of the University of Wyoming,
states, when confronted by crisis, [the administration should] seek ways to ensure that
[an] institution is not defined by the crisis itself, but by [the administrations] response to
it (as cited in Brown, 2006, p. 45). By Dubois (2006) standards, one could argue that as
an institution Harvard permits sexual misconduct by not appropriately responding to
cases of sexual assault. As mentioned previously, the United States Federal Government
has intervened in sexual assault prevention at college campuses. The Government has
listed 55 colleges and universities under investigation for negligently handling cases of
sexual assault. Among these institutions is Harvard. According to the United States
Department of Education (2014), these institutions are under investigation for possible
violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment
complaints (U.S Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education
Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations, 2014).

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

As a result of allegedly mishandling instances of sexual assault, Harvard faces


serious legal implications for violating Title IX. Under Title IX, the law prohibits
discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive
federal financial assistance (U.S Department of Education Releases List of Higher
Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations, 2014).
Although Harvard does have an office dedicated to handling sexual assault and
harassment complaints, the Governments intervention is evidence that Harvard has no
useful plan in place for effectively addressing the issue. In her open letter, Anonymous
(2014) states, in an attempt to comply with Title IX regulationwhich requires
universities to provide a safe environment to survivors of sexual assaultschool officials
told methat I shouldtransfer to a different [residence hall] (Anonymous, 2014). The
victim was granted a no-contact order from the university; beyond this, however, the
institution lacked action in protecting the victim. Ironically, the victim could face
disciplinary measures if she were to disclose the specifics of her case. In her article, she
goes on to state, confidentiality rules prevent me from revealing most of what wasor
was notdone to respond to my report. [If] I were to reveal this information, I could risk
getting disciplined (Anonymous, 2014). Despite suggesting multiple interventions that
would have helped her cope with the assault, the victim received the impression from
Harvards administration that she was making a fuss for no reason. In Anonymous case,
Harvards plan for addressing sexual assault included denying the severity of the matter.
Undeniably, the lack of proactivity on the administrations part will result in a change in
policy, primarily due to the Governments intervention.

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

The lack of action on Harvards part makes it difficult to argue that the university
handled this crisis properly. In this case, the victim received significant pushback from
Harvard. The only element of Harvards plan that was successful was issuing the
assailant a no-contact order. Still, this step was largely ineffective, as the victim and the
assailant lived in the same residence hall. Although the victim never had direct contact
with her attacker after the sexual assault, she constantly lived in fear because she
regularly would run into him in the common areas of the residence hall. Tulane
University President Scott S. Cowen (2006) states, crises define our universities and test
their core values (as cited in Brown, 2006, p. 55). With this in mind, it is important to
question whether Harvard values the health and wellness of its students. Clearly, sexual
assault has taken a toll on the victims wellbeing. Not only has she experienced extreme
levels of depression, anxiety, and fear, but as a result has opted to leave the university
altogether. Additionally, Harvard has seemingly avoided releasing details of the event.
The lack of transparency on Harvards part certainly makes one inclined to believe that
the University did not act to the best of its ability when confronted with this particular
crisis.
Clearly, there are multiple problems with the way that Harvard chose to respond
to Anonymous report of sexual assault. First and foremost, Harvards administration
should exhibit a level of vulnerability by admitting that the university did not handle this
particular instance of sexual assault properly. Lehigh University President Gregory C.
Farrington states that in times of crisis it is important to be honest, candid, and human
(as cited in Brown, 2006, p. 61). The first step in adequately addressing future crises of a
similar nature requires the universitys administration to admit that they are working to

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improve the ways in which such cases are handled. Once the institution has committed
itself to proactively addressing future crises, it is important to establish a plan. Andrew K.
Benton (2006) notes the importance of strategic planning by emphasizing the need to
obtain a clear vision for where you want to go and how you want to get there (as cited
in Brown, 2006, p. 100). Certainly, implementing a campus-wide policy to address sexual
assault at Harvard would be no easy task. As an institution, Harvard should first consider
revising its definition of sexual assault. The primary institutional obstacle that the victim
in this particular case faced was that the institutions definition of sexual assault was so
narrow that her particular situation did not qualify. After revising the policy, there should
be a massive effort to educate students, faculty, and staff about sexual assault. Many
higher education institutions are doing intentional programming around decreasing the
amount of sexual assault cases on college campuses. I would urge Harvards
administration to implement a taskforce with similar efforts. Among the taskforces
responsibilities should be incorporating education that reiterates that sexual violence is
not the responsibility of the victim. That is to say, there should be a clear and intentional
message that alcohol consumption, clothing, and/or previous sexual history are not a
license to assault someone. Proactively educating the campus community that sexual
violence is the result of the assailant and not the victim is imperative.
Ultimately, the way that Harvard chose to handle this case of sexual assault was
misguided. As a result, Harvard could face serious legal repercussions. But most
importantly, by improperly handling the situation, Harvard University and its
administrators are to blame for causing much of the serious mental strife the victim is
experiencing. In choosing to deny institutional support to the victim, the university sent a

CRISIS OPINION PAPER

message to the student body that they condone sexual violence. Although this student has
already slipped through the cracks, it is important that the university adopts a policy that
is proactive in handling future cases of sexual violence. The first step the institution
should take is admitting that they mishandled the case and are working to prevent sexual
assault. From there, Harvards administration needs to create a taskforce aimed at
providing extensive sexual violence education to the broader campus community. Indeed,
it is too late for Harvard to correct the misdoings in this particular case. However, by
adopting a plan of action that is centered on extensive education, it is possible to prevent
similar cases from occurring in the future.

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References
Anonymous. Dear Harvard: You win. (2014, March 31). The Harvard Crimson.
Benton, A.K. (2006). Fitting leadership types to the task at hand: A response to president
Malloys essay. In Brown (Ed.) University presidents as moral leaders (pp. 99
101).
Cowen, S.S. (2006). Moral leadership: A response to president Dubois essay. In Brown
(Ed.) University presidents as moral leaders (pp. 55-58).
Dubois, P.L. (2006). Presidential leadership in time of crisis. In Brown (Ed.) University
presidents as moral leaders (pp. 29-53).
Farrington, G.C. (2006). The importance of values and principles: A response to
president Dubois essay. In Brown (Ed.) University presidents as moral leaders
(pp. 59-62).
Sexual Assault and Other Sexual Misconduct. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from
http://static.fas.harvard.edu/registrar/ugrad_handbook/current/chapter5/sexual_as
ault_misconduct.html
The Offenders. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from https://rainn.org/get
information/statistics/sexual-assault-offenders.
U.S Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open
Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations. (2014, May 1). Retrieved from
http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-releases-list
higher-education-institutions-open-title-i.