Last September, the Association of American Universities released the findings from its Campus Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. The results, which pertained to the 27 universities across the country involved in the survey, revealed that 26 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate women reported having experienced sexual assault.
Flash forward to today: A startup on the Crimson campus is hosting a university-wide hackathon to decrease sexual assault at the institution. Confi, a venture focused on making information about women’s health readily available, has partnered with Harvard College, HBS and CVS Health for the April 10 event. And according to Confi’s founder Tess Brooks, the unprecedented hackathon is expected to engage hundreds of students, allowing them to come up with actionable solutions to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault at Harvard.
Brooks, an MBA Candidate at HBS, told me that, following the AAU report, Confi decided to dig deeper. With its own survey, the startup sought to uncover the root of the issue. It discovered that men and women aren’t on the same page when it comes to factors related to sexual assault.
“In terms of expectations and perception, there is a huge gap between men and women,” Brooks said. “For example, when asked, ‘You meet someone at a party and dance together then go home together, what do you expect to happen next?’ most male students say, ‘Sex,’ while female students say, ‘Nothing is expected, maybe just hang out.’”
She went on to explain that this difference in opinions between genders could cause the mandatory trainings most schools are instituting only partially effective.
“Most trainings are focused on consent. If most men think going home together is consent, that completely changes the conversation,” she stated.
Unlike training sessions, the hackathon will be hands-on, interactive and focused on student opinions. Brooks feels it’s especially helpful to engage men throughout the campus and make them a part of the process.
“It’s really hard for men to be involved in the discussion,” she shared. “Even when we were conducting our survey, the first 10 minutes of our interviews with me was them trying to convince us they’re not rapists. We want to change that, so men feel comfortable taking part in the conversation and are engaged.”
Most importantly, though, Confi and the Harvard community are enthusiastic about leveraging the brainpower of the university’s student population. Participants will not only discuss the sexual assault problem on campus, but they will also develop tangible solutions that can be rolled out. Brooks pointed out:
Our Confi team is mostly students and we’ve been learning ideation [and] design thinking techniques in class to creatively solve problems and innovate in a business context, and we thought these same tools could be used to brainstorm creative ideas to drive social change. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly bright students in this community, and we thought an ideation event approach was the best way to leverage Harvard’s greatest asset (its students).
Images on file.