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Harvard Establishes First University-Wide Policies on Bullying and Discrimination

Harvard released its first University-wide non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies on Wednesday.
Harvard released its first University-wide non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies on Wednesday. By Julian J. Giordano
By Darley A.C. Boit and Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard released final versions of the school’s first University-wide non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies on Wednesday, establishing resolution procedures for discrimination and harassment complaints across the school for the first time.

The policy changes, sent to Harvard affiliates Wednesday afternoon by University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, largely resemble draft versions of the policies Harvard released last April. The Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — approved the changes last December following a comment period that concluded in September 2022. The policies are set to take effect Sept. 1, 2023.

The announcement comes more than two years after Garber established a committee and convened three working groups in January 2021 to review Harvard’s sexual misconduct, discrimination, and bullying policies. The working groups were established as a result of an agreement between Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers and the University in the union’s first contract.

Garber’s Wednesday announcement did not include the final version of Harvard’s updated sexual harassment and misconduct policies, which Harvard will finalize after the Biden administration releases updates to its Title IX regulations on how educational institutions handle sex and gender-based discrimination complaints. The federal updates are expected to come in May.

Still, Harvard intends to have its updated Title IX and sexual misconduct policies take effect on Sept. 1 — alongside its non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies — pending implications of the revised Title IX rules, according to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton.

Harvard currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of several legally protected identifying characteristics, including race, religion, and national origin. The new non-discrimination policy broadly defines discrimination as “adverse treatment of an individual” based on one or more of a set of defined “protected characteristics.”

The final list of protected characteristics includes “political beliefs,” a category that was left out of the draft policies released last year.

The released anti-bullying policy, however, does not limit its protections to a defined list of characteristics, instead defining bullying as “harmful interpersonal aggression by words or actions that humiliate, degrade, demean, intimidate, or threaten an individual or individuals.”

Both proposed policies include informal and formal resolution procedures for discrimination and bullying complaints. Individuals seeking to file a discrimination or bullying complaint can only remain anonymous under informal procedures.

To file a formal complaint, an individual must submit a written description of the alleged discrimination or bullying to designated officials in each school or a central office tasked with overseeing the policies. An individual seeking informal resolution should first consult the designated officials in the appropriate school, except if they object on the grounds of “alleged conflict of interest or bias,” in which case they may bring the matter to the central office.

The policy also notes that an informal complaint “does not automatically launch an inquiry or investigation.”

The structure and staffing of the central office are currently in consideration and have not been finalized, according to Newton.

In his Wednesday email announcement, Garber wrote the policies are designed to ensure Harvard affiliates feel “truly welcome to participate in the full range of University life.”

“We know that policies and procedures alone cannot cultivate the kind of culture and community we aspire to,” Garber wrote. “They play an important role by setting basic standards. But we can and must do more, treating each other with respect and dignity and fostering an environment at Harvard where everyone can thrive and do their best work.”

—Staff writer Darley A. C. Boit can be reached at darley.boit@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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