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Harvard stance on assaults rebutted

CAMBRIDGE, MA - FEBRUARY 21: Harvard University walk through the campus on the day Harvard University president, Lawrence H. Summers announced he is resigning at the end of the academic year February 21, 2006 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Summers will step down from his post after a turbulent five-years at the Ivy League school. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

People walk through the Havard University campus.

In the growing debate about sexual assault on campus, one of Harvard’s exclusive, all-male social clubs has pushed back on the university by commissioning and releasing a report that rebuts the school’s stance that assaults occur more frequently in the clubs.

University administrators commonly cite a 2015 survey of Harvard undergraduates which they say shows that final clubs are, after dormitories, the most likely location for sexual assaults on campus. But the Porcellian Club, one of several elite social clubs that are not officially affiliated with Harvard, hired a consulting firm to analyze that survey’s results.

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The clubs, known for fiercely guarded traditions and raucous parties, have become subject to the university’s most recent efforts to crack down on sexual assault. The college dean has asked the male-only clubs to accept women. Last month, a university task force singled out the clubs as a key force in perpetuating sexual assault among students.

“Harvard’s persistent use of misleading talking points has distracted the public and the student body from the undisputed fact . . . that the vast majority of sexual assaults occur on Harvard property under Harvard control,” said a letter from newly installed Porcellian graduate president David T. Lawrence, a 1967 graduate, to Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College.

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The Porcellian’s analysis, by economist Jora Stixrud of the Washington firm Welch Consulting, finds fault with two statistics from the survey commonly cited by university administrators.

The first statistic is that 47 percent of female Harvard undergraduate seniors who participate in the final club events reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact since entering college, compared with 31 percent of all female Harvard undergraduate seniors.

The second point is that 16 percent of female victims of nonconsensual sexual assault said the incident occurred on university property in a space used by a single-sex organization.

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The Porcellian-sponsored report calls the first figure “meaningless” because it indicates nothing about causality. For example, a woman who experienced an unwanted kiss in her dorm room her freshman year could be considered part of the 47 percent if she later joined an all-female final club her sophomore year, the report said.

The second point, the report said, does not make sense because final clubs are located off campus. The question was overly broad and caused confusion among respondents as to whether final clubs are on or off campus, the report said.

“The [Harvard] Task Force’s decision to single out the Final Clubs is statistically indefensible,” the Welch report said.

In a statement, university spokesman Jeff Neal defended the task force report and survey results, saying the data speaks for itself and is available online. The recommendations in the task force report were based on qualitative and quantitative data collected through the survey and meetings with students who shared personal experiences, he said.

The Porcellian Club, whose members have included Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, came under fire earlier this month after its then-graduate board president, Charles M. Storey, made comments about whether women should be admitted to the club that some interpreted as sexist.

Storey, the president of Harpoon Brewery, resigned shortly thereafter.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.
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