UPDATED: Nov. 8, 2012, at 1:56 a.m.
In what observers surmised was an initiation task for a female final club, two young women wearing the Sablière Society’s signature blue scarves grabbed a newspaper from a vendor of homeless paper Spare Change News and then videotaped themselves on an iPhone trying to sell the paper, according to Harvard Square Homeless Shelter staff members who saw the incident.
The stunt, which occurred as punch season for initiates in Harvard’s final clubs is drawing to a close, sparked indignant comments among the shelter’s all-student staff.
Dressed in superhero costumes, the two punches took a newspaper from Gregory H. Daugherty, a regular vendor of Spare Change News, which homeless men and women can buy for a quarter and then sell for a dollar in Cambridge and Boston.
Daugherty has been a presence in Harvard Square for about two decades, known for using friendly greetings like “Hello, young lady” and “Hello, young man” to sell the paper outside of Au Bon Pain on Mass. Ave.
Jenna R. Overton ’14, a supervisor at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, sent an email over the shelter board’s email list following the incident expressing dismay at what she perceived to be the women’s exploitation of Daugherty.
“It seemed like the girls were mocking the man,” Overton said in an interview with The Crimson. “It seemed inappropriate and rubbed me the wrong way.”
Overton said that Daugherty did not appear angry, but he also did not participate in the video.
“He is always gregarious and friendly, but when one of the girls pulled out the camera, the man backed off as though to say, ‘I’m gonna let you do your own thing,’” said Overton, who is also an inactive Crimson arts editor.
Members of the Sablière Society declined to comment. The club’s punchmasters were also unavailable for comment.
In response to Overton’s email, other members of the shelter staff expressed their indignation over the initiation task.
Though co-administrative director Kelly A. Sullivan ’14 declined to comment specifically on the incident because she was not a witness, she said the shelter has housed individuals who have experienced abuse or discrimination as a result of their housing status.
“We at Harvard Square Homeless Shelter really want to stress the importance of the dignity of homeless people we encounter,” Sullivan said.
Thursday’s incident was not the first time a final club punch task has involved homeless people from Harvard Square, according to Overton. She said that a friend punching a male final club last year was ordered to dress up and pretend to be homeless, panhandle in the Square for $5, and then take a picture with a homeless person.
Overton said she could not speak to the intentions of those who designed the task and said that the women may not have foreseen how the task would appear.
“But watching it as a passerby, the act seemed inappropriate and inherently demeaning to the man selling the newspaper,” she said.
—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at email@example.com.