After Student Alerts OSL of River Run Email, Rumors Spark Privacy Fears
UPDATED: March 14, 2013, at 5:13 p.m.
After members of at least two student organizations canceled their River Run festivities Wednesday night, undergraduates swapped rumors over email lists, voicing concern that administrators in the Office of Student Life had learned of the groups’ evening plans by monitoring student listservs—a claim contested by the University.
According to an emailed statement from Interim Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich on Thursday afternoon, the OSL did not monitor listservs and was only alerted to a student email through an anonymous student tip.
“The OSL has not and does not monitor student emails or list-serves,” Friedrich wrote. “From time to time, individual students bring issues that are of concern to them to the attention of the OSL. That happened last night, when an anonymous student shared an e-mail with an administrator that had come from a list-serve.”
Friedrich added that in these instances, the OSL “will follow up with students directly, particularly if there are concerns about the safety and well-being of students, or if there are clear violations of policy to be addressed.”
The student rumors came four days after news broke that Harvard administrators had searched the email accounts of 16 resident deans to trace the source of a media leak regarding the Government 1310 cheating scandal. That report prompted concern among students, who questioned whether administrators may be able to secretly search student accounts as well.
On Wednesday, members of the Undergraduate Council and the Harvard Model Congress both canceled plans to host freshmen in their rooms for River Run, a prohibited tradition in which freshmen consume alcohol at each of the nine River Houses the night before they are assigned to their upperclassman Houses.
When reached by phone late Wednesday night, Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman '67 said that administrators had knowledge of at least one email that was “encouraging” students to ignore efforts to keep freshmen out of the Houses Wednesday night.
An email invitation sent by a member of the UC reminded invitees that they “have to be 21+ to consume alcoholic beverages,” while an email sent to HMC members made no mention of providing alcohol and said that non-alcoholic beverages would be available.
One student told The Crimson that he had received an email from his resident dean at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday indicating that the dean was aware of his plans to host freshmen in his room for River Run. The email recommended that he cancel his plans, said the student, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson because he did not want it known that he had been associated with the incident.
Sarah E. Coughlon ’15, who is not involved in either HMC or the UC, said she heard a rumor that administrators were monitoring a listserv for emails that contained the phrase “River Run.” Coughlon said that while she realizes that the rumor is not easily verifiable, the fact that such a rumor—even if untrue—spread among students reveals a “general distrust among the student body” of administrators in light of the recent email search controversy.
“If students are concerned, it’s because there was a feeling that our email privacy is not actually that private,” Coughlon said. “If people are concerned, then they’re concerned because of a larger problem.”
—Staff writers Matthew Q. Clarida, Nicholas P. Fandos, David W. Kaufman, Steven S. Lee, Jared T. Lucky, Hana N. Rouse, and Samuel Y. Weinstock contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Laya Anasu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @layaanasu.
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.