Dozens of Black student groups at Harvard University are expressing concern over the university’s response to a hoax emergency call this month that prompted an armed police response that left several Black students badly shaken.
In a cosigned letter to university administrators, the organizations said the college had failed to show its “sincere commitment to the well-being of the Black students” following the April 3 “swatting” incident.
Students requested a meeting with administrators and listed a series of demands, including a thorough investigation of the incident, a “proactive” mental health response to racial trauma, and an in-person town hall with administrators.
They asked that officials respond in writing by Sunday. If that request is not met, the students said, they plan to protest during an annual celebration to welcome new students to campus scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
“The lethal force of that magnitude [while] entering an all-Black dormitory room is questionable,” said Ebony Joy Johnson, a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School and president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance. “We want Harvard to understand the message that could possibly send to current students, and those interested in coming to Harvard University.”
Brian Cromwell, a senior from New York City who worked with Johnson on the committee that drafted the letter, said the goal is to raise awareness of the swatting incident and to ensure that students feel supported. Cromwell said that the four Black students involved in the swatting event had to reach out to Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services on their own to receive support.
“We acknowledge that something needed to be done, but we still think that within the process, there are issues,” Cromwell said. “When the university knows that incidents of trauma happen, there should be some kind of system in place where those students don’t have to go out of their way to find those resources.”
Harvard spokesperson Jason Newton said that the university takes its “responsibility for the safety and well-being of our campus community very seriously.” The campus police department, residential staff, and the college have held meetings and listening sessions with affected students and shared available resources, Newton added.
He said officials are continuing to review the swatting incident and the university’s response to see if there are lessons that can be applied to protocols for first responders and the university when similar incidents happen. Harvard is also learning from other universities that have experienced swatting incidents, he said.
“University leaders have expressed their concern over the deeply troubling nature of the swatting incident that occurred on April 3, and the fear and anxiety it has caused in our community,” Newton said.
Students criticized Harvard officials for waiting three days to issue a statement about the incident, which they say meant some students learned about the event through media reports or from one another. The letter demands that Harvard officials issue a statement addressing the swatting incident across all of its schools and “explicitly name the significant racial impact on both the targeted Black students and the larger Black community.”
“For 66 hours, the University’s silence left students to deal with their anxieties and confusion amidst the resounding absence of information and support resources,” the letter reads.
The student groups also want individuals directly involved to be able to access police reports. Harvard’s police force is not subject to state public record laws because Harvard is a private institution.
“We refuse to let this incident be dismissed or forgotten, and we will not rest until we receive concrete answers and the university has upheld its commitment to bring justice to the targeted students,” they wrote.
In the hoax alarm, Harvard said in a statement e-mailed to students earlier this month that it had received three calls from an anonymous male caller who said he had taken a female student hostage in Leverett House and had tried to kill her. Campus police officers responded to the dorm in the pre-dawn hours and woke up sleeping students and ordered them out of their suite at gunpoint and into a hallway,
Chief Victor Clay of the Harvard University Police Department said in the statement that he realized the police presence at the dorm did “raise fears and anxiety” but that officers followed protocol based on their threat assessment.
The incident was a reminder of the struggles Black individuals face, often at the hands of police, Johnson said.
“Our goal is to also help and support Harvard in becoming a better place and for Black students to feel safe, welcomed and heard on our campus,” Johnson said. “Students are still wrestling with Harvard’s legacy of slavery report that was just released seven months ago and then the swatting incident is a reality that no student should encounter.”