A series of videos produced by students in Kirkland House to generate excitement for Housing Day—including one featuring masked female students dancing in bikinis—sparked controversy and confusion among the student body last week, prompting the removal of the video from YouTube and plans for an open forum for students to discuss their concerns.
According to emails sent over the Kirkland House listserv, the complete series of ten Housing Day videos were debuted at a Beyonce-themed Stein Club on Thursday night.
The following day, Kirkland residents emailed the House list asking the Kirkland House Committee to remove one of the videos entitled “Dark Boar,” set to the Katy Perry song “Dark Horse.” The video included bikini-clad women wearing Kirkland masks and a boar’s head, in honor of the House’s mascot, dancing and posing on the furniture in the Kirkland House junior common room.
Although Kirkland’s HoCo encouraged residents to circulate the videos on Facebook in emails sent Friday morning, the videos were removed from public view on YouTube that evening. Each of Harvard’s 12 undergraduate Houses typically produces a short promotional video in advance of Housing Day, when freshmen are assigned to their upperclassman residences.
The Kirkland HoCo declined to comment on the House’s videos.
While students disagreed on the extent to which HoCo was directly involved in the production of the videos, the link to the YouTube playlist containing all ten videos was sent to the House list from the HoCo email address.
“From what I understand, from what I’ve heard from the list, and what was communicated to us by HoCo...the videos were made by a group of students that volunteered to make them,” Kirkland House resident Edward Escalon ’14 said. “Some HoCo members participated in the production, but they weren’t in charge of the production.”
Sophia D. Chua-Rubenfeld ’15, a Kirkland House resident, also stressed that HoCo did not sponsor the videos.
“House spirit runs strong in Kirkland—the album was a collaborative effort spearheaded by non-HoCo members of our community,” she wrote in an email.
While some students expressed concern over the content of the videos, particularly that of “Dark Boar,” others said they thought the negative reaction was unwarranted.
Ian D. Nightingale ’15, who made a separate, parody Housing Day video with his roommates after the original videos were taken down, said that the “Dark Boar” video “didn’t quite go far enough in the parody aspect” and was therefore perceived by many as being objectifying rather than humorous.
“I just think that it wasn’t a good idea, it wasn’t funny, and some people were offended by it, which is a bad combination,” Nightingale said.
Escalon said that certain aspects of the video stood out as problematic to him.
“I wasn’t so much bothered by the women in bikinis as much as I was bothered by the fact that their faces were covered,” Escalon said. “When you cover their face, it’s kind of like saying they’re no longer a person, that they are just this body to watch, and that was kind of uncomfortable for me.”
Other students said they took issue with the targeted criticism of the “Dark Boar” video. Chua-Rubenfeld wrote in her email that the other Kirkland Housing Day videos featured “scantily clad” students of all genders.
“No one took issue with the gyrating boys in boxers, yet the girls who appeared in bathing suits were instantly scrutinized, criticized, and victimized,” Chua-Rubenfeld wrote. “The backlash, however well-intended, communicated to the women in the video that their choice to bare their bodies was shameful and degrading, which to me is absolutely unacceptable.”
Kirkland House Master Verena A. Conley wrote in an email to The Crimson that she is “aware that several students have expressed concern with some of the student-produced housing videos.
“The Kirkland community has organized a gathering to address these issues, and we look forward to a positive and constructive discussion,” she added.
Kirkland House tutors and interns from the Harvard College Women’s Center will facilitate a discussion about the portrayal of race, gender, and sexuality in this year’s Housing Day videos on Monday night in the Kirkland Senior Common Room.
—Staff writer Nikki D. Erlick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nikkierlick.
—Staff writer Brianna D. MacGregor can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bdmacgregor.