Taking Security Seriously

Reforms Must Follow Poor Response to Summer Stalking

Harvard administrators have some serious explaining to do. Past incidents of arson and assault in Harvard Yard this fall and the current investigation of a summer school stalking case demonstrates that students should be questioning Harvard's security capability.

The trouble began this summer when a summer school student reported to Harvard administrators and police officials that she was being stalked by another summer school student, culminating in a note from him saying "Visit me ASAP. I intend to kill you." Elizabeth C. Hewitt, director of the summer secondary school program, deemed the stalker's letters and actions alarming enough to move the endangered student to a new room. Yet this room had no telephone, and the stalker still had access to the dorm itself since he possessed his magnetic strip card. To make matters worse, Lowell House Master William H. Bossert, the ranking Harvard official at the time of the incident, allegedly refused to turn the boy over to the Harvard police, saying that if they persisted in the case they would "suffer the consequences tomorrow."

The University's obstruction of justice is simply unacceptable. The administration tried to defend the rights of an alleged criminal while ignoring the safety risks posed to the female student. So far, administrators have offered no convincing explanation to either the alleged victim and her family or to the entire Harvard community. And ironically enough, the latter's safety depends on Harvard officials' ability to cooperate with Harvard police and treat all cases involving threats and sexual harassment with the seriousness and responsibility that they deserve.

Fortunately for the students and the members of the Harvard community--and perhaps, unfortunately, for the administration--Harvard is not above the laws governing all other societal institutions. The Cambridge Council recently passed an ordinance ordering University administrators to meet with City Manager Robert W. Healy and four top level Cambridge police officials to outline proper procedures in future stalking and domestic violence cases.

Harvard's response to this ordinance is almost as shocking as its previous behavior. In a statement made on Tuesday, October 18, the University actually defended its actions, claiming in a press release that "Harvard administrators acted appropriately and responsively." It is true that Harvard referred the case information to the police, but that was about the extent of their responsive and appropriate behavior. Beyond that, Harvard did nothing to help police investigate the case, and has since then offered no further explanation.

Harvard administrators can redeem themselves. A set of procedures detailing what processes to follow in such cases must be established. The recently passed ordinance gives Harvard an opportunity to confirm its commitment to safety by conducting a thorough investigation into the current security system provided for students at Harvard.

This past fall, there have already been several startling incidents of criminal actions in Harvard Yard. In September, a naked man was discovered in a Weld bathroom. In mid-October, a visiting Wesleyan student was assaulted in the Yard. Earlier that evening, several students, including myself, were followed into the Yard by two people who allegedly proceeded to light a Wigglesworth kiosk on fire.

The current philosophy behind the Harvard Yard security system, according to Dean of Students Archie C. Epps, is to have "two locked doors between every student and the street." Yet anyone can get into any of the dorms and houses by pretending to be a Harvard student without his/her ID card. Thus it has become increasingly imperative that the University sponsor a committee of students and administrators who can work together with the Harvard police to address certain campus security concerns.

The Committee on College Life, consisting of five Undergraduate Council members and five administrators, will be discussing security matters on November 8th. There needs to be more than just discussion, however. Past events have shown a need to create a committee specifically tailored to address a range of security concerns.

Harvard, despite its behavior in regard to the stalking incident, is willing to try new ways to improve security. Past efforts have included installing emergency phones with blue lights that provide immediate contact with campus police, a safety poster campaign in the Yard, and the presence of police officials in the Union to hand out whistles and safety flyers.

"We always try to make ourselves available to the different houses, U.C. members and different student groups on campus," says Sergeant Larry J. Fennelly, head of Harvard Police's Crime Prevention Unit. "If a student has problems or concerns, we try to make contact with them and find out what their concerns are." Fennelly, who is currently working on a report addressing security in the Yard, is proof that some officials are willing to help.

The University lost credibility with-in both the Harvard and Cambridge communities with its treatment of the summer school stalking incident. Harvard has the resources to provide adequate security for the campus, but these resources are wasted if not allocated properly. A willingness to make change is useful only when directed towards the most necessary goals, which include providing students with an easier way to voice their safety concerns.

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