Departments Instruct Graduate Students On Sexual Harassment

In the wake of the recent release of a campus sexual climate survey, some departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences aim to clarify reporting procedures and promote clear departmental expectations regarding sexual harassment.

The survey, conducted last spring, found that 19 percent of female and 16.9 percent of male graduate students reported being “very or extremely knowledgeable” about the resources available for students who had experienced sexual conduct, compared to 36.6 percent of female and 35.7 percent of male undergraduates. And of female graduate students surveyed who said they had been sexually harassed at Harvard, 21.8 percent reported that an offender was a faculty member, compared to 6.5 percent of female undergraduates.

“These are really, really shocking figures,” English Department Chair W. James Simpson said.

As Harvard grapples with the survey results, students within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences find themselves in a complex position: Many are both students and instructors, responsible for responding to undergraduate concerns about sexual harassment and navigating Harvard’s resources in their own personal cases of sexual harassment.

Several FAS departments are training their graduate students to respond to undergraduates’ concerns about sexual misconduct.


In October, a graduate student-organized group from the Music Department held a workshop to equip graduate students with information about College student reporting policies and on-campus resources.

The group, called the Graduate Student Forum, invited the recently-hired GSAS Title IX Coordinator Seth Avakian and FAS Director of Student Services Jacqueline Yun to lead the workshop, which roughly 25 to 30 people—including faculty members—attended, according to Forum chair Hayley A. Fenn.

“The main thing in that meeting was trying to understand as teaching fellows how we might handle a disclosure and how we might best be there for our students,” Fenn said.

Music Department Chair Carol J. Oja said students held the October workshop in order to teach graduate students “to learn the protocol to follow if a student comes to tell you about an issue that’s taken place, just to sort of sensitize people and inform them about options.”

In the History Department, third-year graduate students are required to take a seminar on the practice of teaching, which this year included a week dedicated to the Title IX responsibilities of Ph.D. candidates as teachers and also their rights as students. Much of that discussion, according to History professor Alison F. Johnson, centers on teaching graduate students how to protect undergraduates’ rights should College students use their teaching fellows as resources.

The English Department has incorporated faculty training related to sexual harassment into its regular departmental meetings, Simpson said. The department had previously invited Title IX officers to one of their scheduled meetings, and Simpson said he later incorporated the information into a required presentation for all new faculty members and new graduate student-teachers.

Departments are not only concerned with how their graduate students advise undergraduates on issues of sexual harassment, though. Fenn said graduate students, especially teaching fellows, can maintain close connection with faculty members, which some say creates complex relationships.

“It’s quite a complicated position, I think, being a teaching fellow, in terms of all these different kinds of power dynamics that surround us,” Fenn said.

Physics Department Chair Masahiro Morii said his department lacks meaningful statistics about sexual harassment and discrimination. Every year, Physics sends an anonymous survey to graduate students to solicit feedback about their experiences—including interactions with faculty—in the department.

But since only a quarter of Physics graduate students are women, and very few respond, Morii said the small sample size does not yield actionable results. He said it is important to enlist faculty in educating their graduate students on community standards and to make them a constructive part of reforming departmental culture.

The History Department also hopes to build these conversations on the faculty level, both in and outside of the department. At History Department faculty meetings, professors have discussed Title IX policies and procedures, and Johnson wrote that she has been asked to speak to other departments on the subject.

“It’s the kind of thing that we have to keep hitting the entire community of people constantly over and over again to make it sink into their mind, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable, and understand how much harm can come from seemingly—maybe those people are thinking—innocent words and acts,” Morii said.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.


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