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July 03, 2014

Members of 'Our Harvard Can do Better' protest the school's Title IX policies (Courtesy of Angela Frankel).

Harvard will implement its first university-wide sexual assault policy this fall.

As part of the policy, a team of trained civil rights investigators, working out of a new centralized office, will review all sexual assault cases at each of the university's thirteen schools. Previously, academic administrators had been the ones to investigate those reports.

In a statement, President Drew Faust said the university is committed to fostering an environment "free of sexual violence and gender discrimination." Faust said the new policy, which hasn't been approved by the US Education Department, will enable the university to better handle complaints.

In addition to creating the new office, Harvard is also lowering the burden of proof necessary to find someone guilty.

A grassroots campaign called Our Harvard Can Do Better welcomed the changes, saying the streamlined policy was long-overdue.  

However, the new policy does not go so far as to include a requirement that any sexual activity must first start with "affirmative consent." Instead, it defines "unwelcome conduct."

Conduct is unwelcome if a person (1) did not request or invite it and (2) regarded the unrequested or uninvited conduct as undesirable or offensive.

Our Harvard Can Do Better responded in a statement:

We are disappointed to see that Harvard has not shifted to an affirmative consent policy… Such a policy best clarifies expectations for all participants, while also facilitating a more mutual and equitable understanding of sexual activity.

Harvard College and the university's law school are among more than 60 schools under investigation by the federal government for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases.

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