In the face of criticism for what some students called insufficient communication in the wake of Friday’s emailed death threat, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said College administrators “can do better” to communicate with students and took full responsibility for their response to the threat.
“If there was a lack of communication, that’s my responsibility,” Khurana said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Just over an hour later, he sent an email to undergraduates reiterating that administrators could improve their communication with students during “such situations.” The message was his first to the full student body since hundreds of Harvard affiliates received an emailed death threat last Friday afternoon. The death threat included a racial slur and disproportionately targeted women of Asian descent.
Harvard University Police Department issued community advisory messages to affiliates on Friday afternoon and evening, as well as the next morning, detailing the threat and associated investigation.
College administrators did not email the full student body until Saturday, when Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde forwarded a message from cultural group organizers about the cancellation of a pan-Asian discussion event originally planned for that afternoon. On Tuesday, Emelyn A. dela Peña, the College’s assistant dean of student life for equity, diversity, and inclusion, emailed undergraduates to invite them to a discussion event later that day about the threat.
Khurana, however, did not communicate with the entire student body until the email Wednesday.
At the discussion event Tuesday, attended by dela Peña and Lassonde but not Khurana, several students suggested that the College’s outreach to students following the threat was untimely and inadequate. In particular, students called for administrators to condemn the threat’s racist undertones. They also requested that Khurana himself, as the College’s top administrator, issue a communication addressing the threat.
In both his College-wide email and the interview with The Crimson, Khurana called the threat “despicable.”
“These despicable emails, which directly targeted our Asian and Asian-American students, created an environment of anxiety and fear across our campus,” Khurana wrote in the email.
In the interview, Khurana added that the incident over the weekend demonstrated that he should better communicate his office’s leadership structure. Each dean, he said, should be understood to be speaking for the entire College.
“I haven’t done a good enough job highlighting that their presence is no different than my presence,” he said.
HUPD’s investigation into the source of the threat remains ongoing, although spokesperson Steven G. Catalano issued an advisory message Wednesday confirming that the emails originated overseas and “do not pose a credible threat to the campus at the present time.”
Khurana will host a discussion event on the threat and associated communications on Friday at 3 p.m. at Phillips Brooks House. He had originally planned a discussion on extracurricular activities for that time, but changed the topic in the wake of the threat, he said.
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@thecrimson. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.
—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.
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