Sexual Assault Awareness Month & AAU Survey

RC: We are going to take a break from our Q&A this week to talk a bit about Sexual Assault Awareness Month (happening now!) and the AAU (Association of American Universities) Survey that students are getting emails about.  This survey will follow up on a landmark survey completed in 2015 by the same association and asks students about their experiences and perceptions of sexual and gender-based harm on their campus.

LM: All Harvard students (both graduate and undergraduate) should have received an email about the survey on April 2nd from the email address This email contains an individualized link for you to anonymously take the survey.

According to the FAQ on the Harvard Title IX website, “responses will provide Harvard with a better understanding of student experiences on campus.  That understanding can help inform university policies designed to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault, improve resources, and measure change to create a safer environment for all of Harvard’s community members.”

Also, all students who complete the survey receive a $5 Amazon gift card!

RC: We also want to note that Harvard is observing Sexual Assault Awareness Month for the month of April. This year’s national theme is “I Ask.” OSAPR and partner offices are hosting a variety of events, including Harvard Wears Denim, coming up on Wednesday, April 24th.  To become a Solidarity Sponsor, email  The entire SAAM calendar can be found here.

LM: We recognize that SAAM can bring a lot up for people, and that the emails about the AAU survey may compound this. We want to make sure this is named, and make sure everyone is aware of some of the resources that are available. This month, OSAPR and the Center for Wellness are hosting Yoga for Restoration sessions every Tuesday from 7-8 pm in the Mount Auburn Room (Smith Campus Center, 2nd floor, accessible through the HUHS pharmacy). The OSAPR hotline is available 24/7 at 617-495-9100. Also, throughout the semester, the Center for Wellness hosts “Wellbeing Wednesdays” from 3-5 pm in the Mount Auburn Room, with tea, snacks, and a variety of relaxing and mindfulness-based activities.

RC:  We hope that as the weather moves toward spring you are able to care for yourself and your community in whatever ways feel most available to you.  We recognize that many of the things we’ve named in this week’s post may be complicated for people and want to honor that. At the end of the day, we write this in the hopes that you are as aware of things going on on campus as is helpful to you and we hope that you are able to make the most of what remains of the semester.

Supporting friends who have experienced sexual assault

A friend recently shared with me that they had experienced sexual assault.  I’m not sure I responded in the right way. How can I support them moving forward and how do I respond better if someone else shares this type of experience with me in the future? —(Un?)Supportive

RC: Hi (Un?)Supportive, we are so glad you asked!  It can feel like a lot of pressure to make sure that you’re responding well and we are happy to talk through some strategies to take some of that pressure off! In order to give the best advice we can, I’ve invited my colleague, Rose Poyau, Case Coordinator at OSAPR, to help me answer.

RP:  To begin, I’m thinking about questions that I often ask, which are usually, “how can I support you?” or “how can I be helpful?” This is one of the ways that I can center that person and their needs throughout the conversation. It also helps me to make sure I’m not imposing my ideas on them, but am hearing them and what they would like.

RC: Another thing we often talk to people about is making sure that you match their language. This is another way that we can make sure that we are not minimizing their experience or making meaning of their experience for them. For example, if someone describes their experience as “confusing but unwanted,” we recommend that you don’t use language like “assault,” because that might not be their experience. Conversely, if someone describes something as an assault, mirror that language so that it doesn’t feel like you are reducing the significance of that event.

RP:  It’s often really helpful to check in with people about what has helped them get through hardship in the past. This can remind people of their strength and capacity, and we certainly name those things to people every time we meet with them. Examples of questions to ask might be: “what are some of the things that have been helpful in the past?” or “what are some ways you take care of yourself?”

RC: As we named earlier, it can feel like a lot of pressure to hold this type of information for someone you care about. It’s really important to us that each person is able to set their own boundaries about what they can and can’t do. Because of that, it can be really helpful to know of resources in the community who can help provide support to friends who have experienced interpersonal harm.

At Harvard:

In the Community:

RP: Finally, it’s really helpful to make a plan for checking in with your friend in advance, so that you can decide when and how to check in. Some questions that might be helpful are: “do you want me to check in later?” “how would you prefer that I check in?” “when is good for me to check in?” Sometimes I also tell people that, depending on the type of relationship and friendship, it can be nice to do unsolicited acts of caring. I generally only offer that in relationships where that is already a norm.

RC:  Again, we are so glad you asked; the tools and strategies we have talked about apply in almost any type of interaction and we certainly use them in a wide array of conversations. These will hopefully help you as you navigate supporting your friend and any potential future conversations. While it may feel like there is a high bar for doing this right, what we consistently hear from people is that they appreciate having a friend who listens wholeheartedly and doesn’t make judgements.  

RP: We want you to know that you can connect with OSAPR at any time, whether over our hotline (617-495-9100), by walking in between 12-1 M-F, or by making an appointment (617-496-5636 or We are here for people who have experienced harm as well as for people who are supporting others.

RC:  Lastly, we do want to note that we are about to begin Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and this is the year for the AAU Survey. Both of those might bring up more experiences or conversations that at other times of the year. We encourage people to connect with each other and with resources as they are able.  Take care and thanks!

RC: Ramsey Champagne, OSAPR Community Advocate

RP: Rose Poyau, OSAPR Case Coordinator

Where can I get free condoms on campus? Do I have to prove that I’m a student?

AA: Thanks so much for writing in to ask this question. We’re really proud that here at Harvard we provide (for free!) a variety of types of condoms and other barrier methods, such as oral (dental) dams, finger cots, and gloves.

LM: One of the most popular forms of birth control is the external (or male) condom. In addition to preventing pregnancy, external condoms can also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), because they provide a physical barrier. There is also the internal (or female) condom, which is inserted into the vagina or anus before sex.

Below is a list of places on campus you can get free safer sex supplies, as well as a map.

Houses & First-Year Dorms: Most Houses and dorms have dispensers with external (male) condoms. These are generally located in laundry rooms, gender-neutral bathrooms, or near building manager’s office.

Health Promotion Office (6th floor Smith Campus Center): internal & external condoms, oral dams, finger cots, gloves, lube, & educational materials

Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (Smith Campus Center, 6th floor): internal & external condoms, oral dams, finger cots, gloves, lube, & educational materials

Women’s Center (Canaday Basement): internal & external condoms, oral dams, & lube

Office of BGLTQ Student Life (Grays Basement): internal & external condoms, oral dams, & lube

AA: In answer to your second question, nope! No questions will be asked when you show up for condoms!  If a staff person is available and you have questions or you don’t see something you’re looking for, please feel free to ask!

LM:  Thanks again for your question!

I feel like I should get STI tested but I’m really nervous about the process and about my parents finding out. How does it work and how do I keep my parents from finding out?

AA: Thank you so much for sending in your question. Wanting to keep anonymity is a really common concern when people think about getting STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) tested at HUHS. There are many ways to ensure that no one finds out that you’ve received STI testing at school.

AG: Yes definitely! STI testing is safe, easy and important and the CDC generally recommends that if you are engaging in sexual activity (especially with new partners) that you get tested between every three months and a year depending on your sexual practices. The most common symptom of STIs is actually no symptoms at all (I know, yikes) so it’s definitely worth getting testing even if you don’t think anything is abnormal. So good on you for thinking about it and trying to learn more about getting tested here at Harvard!

AA: I want to make sure that all Harvard students know that they can receive free STI testing at HUHS. As AG mentioned getting STI testing at HUHS is very easy. You can schedule a STI test online via the HUHS patient portal, you don’t even need to call. First head the HUHS website and log into your patient portal. Once you are logged in fully, click on “appointments” and then “schedule an appointment”. When the next choices appear you’ll need to select Primary Care and choose the location option that corresponds to your PCP's name and then type in STI testing and complete the rest of the form. Appointment time options will pop up and you will be able to choose the time that is best for you.

AG: When you go in, you’ll meet with a clinician and they may ask you about your specific concerns and sexual practices. This is just so they can get a sense of what to test you for so try to be honest. Then, based on this, they’ll take either a blood or urine sample and do an exam of the possibly affected area. Also, it’s worth mentioning here that tests are often unable to detect STIs directly after a sexual encounter. If there’s one specific sexual experience you think might have exposed you to an STI then you should wait two weeks before getting tested so that the test is actually accurate.

AA: If the clinician orders a test that requires a blood sample they will most likely send you to Quest Diagnostics which is in the basement of HUHS. Since Quest is a separate company, who does their own billing, it is important for you to remind them to bill HUHS for this blood sample. HUHS pays for all student STI testing, including the any tests done through a blood draw. Sometimes, but rarely, there is a small margin of error as billing is done by humans. If a bill is sent to your insurance it will generally just say “lab test” and not the specific type of test. If this is still of concern to you we recommend that students call their insurance company's (most phone numbers can be found on the back of your insurance card) and ask that their Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) get sent to their address on campus.

AG: The tests may take up to a week to be completed and then you will get the result over your HUHS secure messages. If you test positive for an STI then they will follow-up with you for next steps about treatment options. I just want to end by affirming that there are outside providers that may be more accessible for some individuals. Some outside options are:

Fenway Community Health Center

  • (617) 267-0900

  • Located at 1340 Boylston Street Boston, MA 02215

Mount Auburn Hospital, Center for Women

  • Located at 330 Mount Auburn Street Cambridge, MA 02138

  • (617) 499-5151

AA: We know that STI testing can seem daunting but it’s a really great thing to practice regularly. If have further questions don’t hesitate to contact us or HUHS.

Amanda Ayers MPH

Office of Health Promotion and Education




Sexual assault and IPV in the queer community: finding support and affirmation after a harmful experience

SDS: Thanks for joining us for week 2 of 3 in our (the BGLTQ Office’s) guest post series. Just as we did last week, we’re lighting a candle to both acknowledge and center those who have experienced harm.

BJG: So, last week we talked about the context of queer communities and relationships and how that plays a role in how harm is experienced. As part of that, we explored some of the factors that might impact how individuals within the queer community access resources - factors such as outness or the size of the community. This week, why don’t we dig a little deeper into that and think more about how this affects someone within the queer community after they’ve experienced harm.

SDS: I think it’s so important to recognize that sexual assault can be an incredibly isolating experience. As we mentioned last week, shame, fear of retaliation, one’s degree of outness, and concerns about whether you can trust people to believe your story can all lead a person not to share what they’ve experienced. I’m reminded of the many people in the television and movie industry who’ve recently spoken out about their own experiences of assault, some going back as far as decades. That’s a long time to hold on to that pain. As difficult as it has been to hear these stories of sexual assault, it’s encouraging to see that people are using this opportunity to call for systemic change. Part of changing the culture around sexual assault and harassment means working to destigmatize the experience of harm.

BJG: It’s important for queer people to receive affirmation and acknowledgement of their experiences of harm. This goes hand-in-hand with the affirmation of the people and relationships that reflect a wide variety affections, intimacies, identities, and orientations. In short, to affirm and acknowledge harm, we must also affirm and acknowledge the people experiencing that harm.

SDS: That’s really well said, BJG. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of systems, such as homophobia and transphobia, that lead queer people to not feel accepted or affirmed. Can you speak to some of that, in your experience as a student?

BJG: Sure. The lack of education about gender diversity, the struggle to find all-gender bathrooms, the required gendering of first-year housing, assumptions that people will make about a person’s sexuality, and the ways gender and sexuality are included and not included in curriculums can all make queer students feel excluded and powerless on campus. To solve these structural problems, it’s not enough for individuals to just not be openly homophobic or transphobic. The default on campus and in society in general is homophobia and transphobia, so those outside of the queer community must put in extra effort to oppose those defaults and create an inclusive space. In addition, queer students’ experiences within the Harvard queer community may not always be the most affirming. Is the queer community accepting and diverse? What intersections of identities are represented at queer events? How can we avoid forming exclusive cliques within the community?

SDS: You’re so right. While we as a Harvard community strive to be inclusive and affirming of all genders and sexualities, there are reminders that we still have a long way to go. Part of our work in the BGLTQ Office is to educate the campus (staff, students, and faculty) about gender and sexual diversity, and to create space for building community across the various identities that we hold as queer people. But this is only part of the work. It’s also important to have people who are easily accessible and available when students want to speak with someone who they feel will understand their specific experience as a queer person. In regard to sexual assault, all of the staff and interns in the Office of BGLTQ Student Life are trained to be able to serve as a confidential resource. And every house and yard has its own BGLTQ Tutor or Proctor to serve as a local resource for queer students. While BGLTQ Tutors and Proctors don’t have confidentiality training, they are a great source of support and advice, and can help connect students with other resources on campus.

BJG: I’m actually on staff for Contact Peer Counseling, and we’re confidential undergraduates trained to listen to and understand the experiences of queer students on campus and provide information on additional resources. Queer Harvard students who have experienced harm are welcome to visit Contact or call us during our drop-in hours. Some students may also want to turn to their queer peers, such as friends or classmates, for support. For students who don’t want to access official campus resources, queer peers can be their first point of contact for getting support.

SDS: And let’s not forget that there are other great resources that aren’t queer-specific, but which are definitely queer-friendly and queer knowledgeable, such as our friends and colleagues at OSAPR; Emily Miller, the College’s Title IX Coordinator; the Bureau of Study Counsel; and Response Peer Counseling. This isn’t an exhaustive list! You can learn about these and other resources in the links we’ve provided below.

BJG: We hope that this has been a helpful start to a conversation about the aftermath of harm and how queer students who’ve experienced harm can access resources on campus for support in the aftermath of a sexual assault. We hope you’ll join us again next week when we’ll explore the ripple effect that sexual assault has on members of a small community.

Sheehan Scarborough, Director of the Office of BGLTQ Student Life

BJG, Undergraduate Intern ("Quintern") in the Office of BGLTQ Student Life

Additional Resources