October 31, 2014
Dear Harvard College Students,
I write to you with an update on the investigation of the threatening emails sent earlier this month to many members of our community, which targeted, particularly, women of Asian descent, and to speak about how the College can better respond to such situations in the future.
First, it's important for you to know that the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) has, from the very outset, treated the sending of these emails as a hate crime. The HUPD continues its investigation and seeks to bring to justice the person or persons responsible, working with local and state government, federal and international agencies. The investigation is active and on-going. I want to thank the HUPD for their quick action in responding to this threat and their steadfast commitment to keeping our entire community safe. I can assure you, as Dean of the College, that all of us at the College and the University are committed to doing everything we can to protect our community members from physical, emotional, and psychological harm.
Fortunately, we were able to determine quickly that no one in our community was in physical danger. However, I want to be very clear that our community stands together against hate. Emails of this kind are an assault on the fundamental dignity and rights of each person and therefore constitute an attack on our entire community. There are those in the world who would seek to leverage their negative and destructive ideas through the heightened attention we receive as an institution. Targeting members of our community may have been a tool for this purpose, but these people don't know us. Our vocal rejection of these ideas, and the way we care for one another during such upsetting episodes can and should blunt the tools of those who hate.
We are continuing to find ways to discuss bias on our campus and improve our understanding of how we can work together with our students, staff, and faculty to create a more inclusive community. We have also been meeting with students, parents, and other concerned members of the community to hear their thoughts about how we should approach such incidents in the future. We are revising our emergency response policies and procedures based on many of their suggestions.
Dean Stephen Lassonde will oversee additional programming and initiatives in the Office of Student Life that deepen our understanding and responsiveness to incidents of bias and hate in our community. In particular, Dean Lassonde and Emelyn de la Peña, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, will develop a Bias Reporting System that will make it easier for members of the Harvard community to report instances of bias, discrimination, and harassment through multiple channels, including online and in-person reporting. This process has already begun, and I expect to receive a plan by the end of this term. We will fully engage the College community throughout this process.
I know that upsetting incidents evoke a wide range of emotions – fear, sadness, anger, helplessness – that interfere with our ability to function at our best. The College has numerous resources available to support you through this. We will continue to reach out directly to those who received these email threats. I also encourage you to reach out to one another in solidarity and support.
Creating a culture rooted in inclusivity is difficult. But when we strive for inclusion, it helps our community to overcome the present realities of bigotry and bias in our society and to create a new future. Each of us belongs here, and we should always make each person feel as if they do. Our ability to recognize both our common humanity and the dignity and unique perspective each person brings to this community is essential to our mission to educate citizens and citizen leaders for our society. This incident gives each of us the opportunity to think about how our words and actions can shape the world we want to see, at Harvard and beyond.