Harvard's Title IX Office has fully shifted to remote communication and continued operations as usual in the wake of the University’s instruction for students and administrators to leave campus for the remainder of the semester.
University Title IX Officer Nicole M. Merhill said in an interview Monday that her office has continued to receive and respond to disclosures submitted through its Anonymous Disclosure tool — a system which has functioned as an online resource for students since its debut in October 2019.
“We get a ping as soon as a disclosure goes into the system. And so we’re managing those in the exact same way that we would be if we were in the office — there’s no change whatsoever,” Merhill said.
According to Merhill, any delays in the time it takes coordinators to respond to student disclosures are due to information gathering rather than challenges posed by online communication.
“We’re adhering to our goal of responding to those within 24 hours — any delays to that would be really solely related to ensuring that we’re providing consistent information and responses,” Merhill said. “But that’s not impacted in any way, shape, or form by the situation that we’re in of being at home.”
With regard to non-anonymous disclosures from students, Title IX officers have also continued to receive those via email or by phone. Formal complaints will continue to be addressed as usual by the Office of Dispute Resolution.
“I think one of the benefits for both the Title IX Office and the Office of Dispute Resolution is that we both have, in advance of this, extensive experience working remotely,” Merhill said. “These tools were not and are not new to us.”
The Title IX Office will also continue its work developing online training modules, holding discussions with student liaison groups, and delivering “in-person” training for athletic coaches in real-time on Zoom.
However, not all of the office's plans have continued wholly uninterrupted. The Title IX Office, along with some Harvard faculty, planned to pilot a new bystander intervention program this spring, but will delay the project due to restrictions on conducting human subject research from afar.
But while the outbreak might pose an obstacle to the bystander training project, Merhill said the transition to remote communication also presents an opportunity to develop other aspects of programming from the Title IX office.
“I said to the team, let’s take advantage of this as an opportunity,” Merhill said. “We have to ourselves engage virtually. Let’s take the lessons learned of what’s working for us, what’s not working for us, and think about that as we’re designing online initiatives for our students.”
—Staff writer Isabel L. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.