Harvard vs. Yale: A Comparison of Sexual Climates 


It is safe to assume that Harvard may not be the safest place for female and gender non-conforming undergraduates.

31.2% of female Harvard College seniors who took the sexual conduct survey this past spring reported having experienced some form of “nonconsensual sexual conduct,” including sexual touching, attempted penetrations, or completed penetrations. This was a good 4 percentage points higher than the national average of 27.2%.

But just how bad is our performance from a comparative perspective?

A comparison is in no way meant to condone our alarming numbers. Nothing ever qualifies sexual assault. But if anything, a comparison allows us to see where we stand among our peers—what we’re doing wrong, where we’re falling short, what we could be doing better. The Harvard Independent’s comparison of Harvard’s survey results with those of Yale allows us to do precisely this.

Harvard and Yale were both part of the cohort of 27 universities that administered the sexual conduct survey this past spring, the results of which were released on Monday. Of the 26 other universities that took the survey, Yale stands closest to us in terms of its class composition, social scene, and academic environment.


While the number of people, all genders included, who reported having experienced “nonconsensual penetration” roughly matched up across the two universities, Yale seems to be marginally safer for transgender and gender non-conforming students than Harvard. Nearly 75% of trans or gender non-conforming students at Yale were likely to believe that campus officials would protect the safety of the person making a sexual assault report, compared to a shocking 48% at Harvard.


A consistent narrative starts to emerge when we look at campus resources dealing with on campus sexual assault. About 20% of Harvard students who took the survey had no idea “at all” where to make a report at the university in cases of sexual assault, nearly double the amount at Yale.

Similarly, over 20% of the students taking the survey at Harvard had no idea “at all” how sexual assault was defined at their university, compared to only 10% at Yale.

Moreover, nearly one third of the survey-taking students at Harvard reported being aware of the services provided by Title IX coordinator at their institution, as compared to over a half of the survey-taking students at Yale.

Every educational institute is required to designate “at least one employee” as a Title IX coordinator to make sure the institute carries out its responsibilities under Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act of 1972. Responsibilities of a Title IX coordinator include regular training for faculty, staff and students, outlining their rights under Title IX, especially with regard to sexual misconduct. This includes training about what constitutes sexual misconduct, reporting options, the definition of consent and procedures used to process complaints, among other things. The government requires that the Title IX coordinator be given “visibility” and “training”.


This comparison also reveals key areas where Harvard could improve—areas that may hold the key to an overall overhaul in sexual climate on campus. Nearly 77% of Yale students taking the survey reported that their initial orientation on campus had included some form of information about sexual assault, compared to only over 58% at Harvard. This near gap of near 20 percentage points is as appalling as it is revealing.

As a member of the Class of 2017, the only thing remotely related to sexual assault during orientation week was a skit by an undergraduate improv-comedy group and a Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors (DAPA) presentation. I only learned of my Title IX rights when a case for Title IX violation was filed against the Harvard Law School. My minimal knowledge of sexual assault resources came from a flyer in a house bathroom stall my sophomore year.

Harvard may need to push the envelope when it comes to orientations, for both its graduate students and undergraduates. It must convey the wealth of resources at its disposal, and be active in its stance. Harvard, as an institute, cannot merely take the back seat and yield to opaque bureaucracy in cases of sexual assault, as it has with mental health and undergraduate social life, though all three are of comparable importance.


It is vital not to get mired in the specifics of a Harvard-Yale comparison. The larger lessons to take home are those of objective reflections: why aren’t we making better use of the wealth of resources that money, prestige and history have transpired to help us afford? According to the survey itself, Harvard has 11 resource centers to deal with sexual assault, as compared to only 5 at Yale. All these incredible resources exist, but it is unclear why Harvard refuses to put a face to them – make them more personable, make them more approachable, more welcoming.

It is easy to blame reckless drinking or final clubs for rising assaults, but what is Harvard, as an institution, doing to handle the assaults so committed? (Dorms at Harvard, in fact, are nearly five times as likely to be venues for sexual assault than final clubs, according to the survey.)

Let he, who is without sin, cast the first stone, and it will not be Harvard—the institution, the idea or, as we are learning, the nightmare.
Reporter’s note: 4,075 undergraduates and 7,029 graduate students completed the survey at Harvard, while 3,156 undergraduates and 3,364 graduate students took the survey at Yale. According to the survey, undergraduates typically form 34% of the total population of Harvard students, while graduates account for 66%. Similarly, at Yale, undergraduates constitute nearly 45% of the total student population, while graduates account for about 55%. This difference in underlying student population may potentially have contributed, though very marginally, to the difference in survey results as reported in this article. All of the figures reported in this article are for the entire student population (including both undergraduates and graduates) who took the survey, and not merely for the undergraduates.

Aditya Agrawal’17 (adityaagrawal@college.harvard.edu) hopes these results will spur Harvard to action.