Dismay at one school's response to sexual assault
BOSTON, MA — If I were asked to identify a female role model, I would choose Connie Chung over Betty Friedan.
Most of the college women I know view feminism - and all of its radical connotations - as a social movement encountered only in US history classes.
Throughout my three years as an undergraduate at Harvard University, I, like many of my female friends, have shied away from specifically feminist activities and organizations. I have taken my gender for granted.
Thus, you can imagine my surprise and disgust last spring when I learned that a male classmate, Drew Douglas, had been accused of raping another Harvard student.
Not only had I eaten dinner with Mr. Douglas in the social feeding frenzy that characterizes our freshman dining hall, but I had sat across the room from him throughout a semester-long economics section.
I was shocked that a fellow member of the class of 2000, born and bred in our era of political correctness, might have committed such an act, even if, as in this case, he was under the influence of alcohol. After all, we had all been high school freshmen during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill affair when the term sexual harassment entered into our 15-year-old daily lexicon.
I have always felt comfortable as a woman at Harvard. Supposed gender awareness pervades the campus. From the numerous female speakers, women leaders' conferences and Radcliffe College events, to a recent university-wide change in official terminology from "freshman" to "first-year," Harvard and its students have always seemed inclusive and accepting of the female 48 percent of the student body.
For the past two years, dynamic and intelligent women presidents have led our student government. Women's studies classes are consistently over-enrolled.
Two weeks ago, Harvard's Faculty Council debated whether to dismiss Douglas from the university. Dismissal is Harvard's de facto policy of expulsion. The faculty was presented with the Middlesex Superior Court's account of the sexual assault, taken from the hearing where Douglas pled guilty to indecent assault and battery.
The Middlesex Superior Court convicted Douglas on the charges of indecent assault and battery. The Faculty Council's disciplining committee and victim herself, however, contend that a rape did occur.
As I joined more than 200 students in a fervent pro-dismissal rally, I felt my gender securities slowly dissolve.
We waited as our professors discussed the appropriate punishment for someone already considered to be a sexual felon by Middlesex County and a rapist by Harvard College. The Faculty Council debated what they considered the case's ambiguities: Had the victim provoked Douglas? What was the nature of their interactions throughout the evening? Did she refuse him with adequate force?
I hope the spirit of protest which engulfed our campus during this debate will continue, even after the final vote of 101 to 19 in favor of dismissal. For, as we stood vigil late into the night, we realized that beneath Harvard's politically correct veneer, sexism still lingers. In an institution that must debate whether to dismiss a convicted sex offender, women have yet to achieve full security.
Beyond the immediate case, the school lacks significant resources for victims of sexual assault and rape. Harvard is the second richest nonprofit in the world (after the Vatican). Yet, unlike many other schools, we have no women's center or 24-hour rape crisis hot line, and insufficient counseling and health services for victims of sex crimes.
In addition, while the orientation for first-year students includes a mandatory three-hour workshop on plagiarism, similar workshops that discuss the parameters of sexual violence are optional, sporadic, and underpublicized.
On the most basic level, there is a noticeable lack of social acceptance provided to victims of any kind of sexual abuse. Both the victim of the Douglas assault as well as the victim of a second rape that occurred last spring (the second case is scheduled to appear before the Faculty Council next month) remained silent about their experiences. The two women recently "came out" to the campus, describing their feelings of embarrassment, helplessness, and isolation in a student newspaper.
Harvard can continue changing gender-unfriendly titles such as "freshman," and inviting women leaders to speak to us. But until sexual assault, violence, and rape are unconditionally condemned by this institution, women are still not equal members of our community.
Until the resources afforded to current female students are commensurate to the luxurious resources dedicated to development, something is drastically wrong with the values upheld by my school.
And until women feel entirely comfortable in every classroom, dining hall, and late-night party, even if they are surrounded by inebriated male classmates, all students, administrators, and faculty members dare not remain silent.
I have realized that the feminist struggle embraced by our mothers is not over. So I am off to the library, where I'll unearth Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" and brush off the cobwebs.
*Dafna Hochman, a junior at Harvard University, is an editor of The Harvard Crimson. She is majoring in social studies.