November 27, 2019

Setting the Record Straight on Reporting Harassment and Discrimination

The Harvard Administration is once again spreading misinformation in order to distract from its extreme and unwarranted rejection of student workers’ proposal to improve protections against discrimination and harassment.

So, let’s set the record straight.

Student workers are demanding new protections from harassment and discrimination because, as the American Association of Universities’ (AAU) October 2019 survey confirmed, the current process has failed to make things better after five years of Harvard trying to reform its processes. It is therefore not surprising that student workers have lost faith in Harvard’s ability to police itself. Even the Harvard president said, in response to the AAU survey results, “We need to do better.”

It is important that this independent process include reporting of all harassment and discrimination because the Title IX ofice is set up to handle cases of harassment and discrimination based on sex. Right now, there is no internal process for handling harassment and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, immigration status, or any other factor besides sex. It is unbelievable that Harvard University would not have a trusted process for student workers to report discrimination and harassment based on race, ethnicity, and other factors. That must change.

Harvard claims it does not support our proposal because the process would force survivors to face their accusers and put students in “adversarial, cross-examination situations.” These claims are not true. Here are the facts about our proposal:

  • Student workers will be allowed to choose whether they report discrimination and harassment to the existing Title IX office or to pursue their complaint through the process proposed by the union which would culminate in a review by someone not employed by Harvard. This neutral process is necessary because Harvard has protected powerful perpetrators consistently for decades, resulting in many student workers losing trust in the University’s process.
  • If a perpetrator’s employer (Harvard) defends the individual accused and an agreement cannot be reached without arbitration, the University could request that the accuser come to arbitration. To be clear: the survivor always has the choice. Facing a perpetrator is not a requirement and would not be forced. The parties can agree to sequester the witnesses and the only party in a position to cross-examine the survivor, or not, is the University. In fact, institutions that have implemented this process tell us that the majority of cases never need to go to arbitration.
    The University and student workers will agree on the decision makers so there is no doubt the decision makers are neutral and independent.
  • Our proposal ensures that those who do not feel comfortable reporting within the University structure — due to fear of retaliation or for any other reason — have another option; the choice to have their claim decided by a neutral arbitrator who is not employed by the University.

Providing student workers with a neutral, independent process they can trust will improve the culture at Harvard. Student workers are more likely to report without fear of retaliation. Harvard will be better able to identify and remove perpetrators of harassment and discrimination, which will benefit the entire community. We are hopeful that Harvard will listen to student workers’ concerns, and address this urgent issue in the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW contract.