An employee from a Harvard University-affiliated research center issued an apology Monday after a video of her asking a neighbor with a biracial daughter if she lived in the “affordable apartments” went viral on Facebook, leading to widespread public outrage.
In an e-mail sent to the Globe, Theresa Lund, executive director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, said she was “terribly sorry” for the exchange she had with her neighbor on Saturday, and admitted her reaction to the situation was “inappropriate and wrong.”
“I want to be accountable for my actions in a situation where I fell far short of my values and what I expect of myself,” Lund said. “This clearly wasn’t my best moment, and I have work to do to more consistently be my best self.”
On Saturday, July 14, Cambridge resident Alyson Laliberte posted a video to Facebook that showed Lund sitting down on the curb next to Laliberte and her young daughter.
Laliberte said in a Facebook post that Lund approached her and complained that her daughter was being too loud, and asked if she would “move so [Lund’s] kids can nap” inside.
Laliberte claimed Lund “followed me around and harassed me trying to get my information and apartment number as if she had a right to know.”
“When I wouldn’t tell her, she proceeded to ask me if I lived in the ‘affordable apartments’ of the building for Cambridge residents,” she wrote.
Laliberte said she felt the comment was “discriminating” and “racist.” Laliberte said her daughter is biracial.
“Why do people think they are literally better than others? Why does she think she has a right to make us move?” Laliberte wrote. “I’ve lived in this complex for 15 years. Not one other person complained about my daughter and I.”
By Monday, the video had been viewed more than 1 million times, and the post had been shared by more than 15,000 people.
At one point in the video, Lund can be heard speaking directly to Laliberte’s daughter, saying, “You’re a sweetheart, I’m sorry that [inaudible] with your mommy. She is not being very nice.”
When reached by telephone Monday, Laliberte declined an interview and said “there is nothing more I can comment at this time,” beyond what she posted to Facebook.
Some online criticism of Lund juxtaposed her comments with her role at the Harvard initiative, which aims to relieve human suffering in war and disaster through research and education, according to the organization’s website.
Amid the backlash, it appeared that Lund’s profile had been scrubbed from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s website. A LinkedIn profile for Lund had also been deleted.
Officials at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where the initiative is based, could not immediately be reached for comment.
In her apology, Lund said she “should not have addressed [Laliberte’s] daughter, and there was no reason for me to ask what type of unit she lives in.”
“I offered my sincere apology to her, her mother, and her daughter in person [Sunday] morning,” Lund said. “I love our community and am committed to engaging in dialogue and actions about how to make it more welcoming and pleasant for all of us to live in together.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.