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Two First-Years Receive Harassing Phone Calls

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Two first-year students in Penny-packer Hall said they received sexually-harassing phone calls earlier this week from a man who claimed he was conducting a Newsweek poll.

The students, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the caller initially sounded professional. But as the discussion proceeded, his questions developed sexual overtones--including one request that a student touch his own genitals.

The students, who were not aware that the caller had contacted both of them, said they were unnerved by the phone call, but neither reported the incident to the Harvard police.

Police spokesperson Peggy A. McNamara said no other harassing phone calls to Penny-packer have been reported to the police this week.

The records for all first-year dorms have not yet been checked, she said.

The caller began the conversation by questioning the students about their interests, hobbies and reading habits.

"He didn't sound like a sicko; he asked all the questions in a survey voice," said one student.

"He asked me what magazines I like to read, what I don't like to read and to rate things on a scale of one to five," said the second student.

But the caller soon changed the tone of his questions.

"[H]e started to ask about clothing and how people feel about it," the second student said. "He asked what I was wearing at that point and why would someone wear something if he might be more comfortable in other clothes."

The caller then asked the student to take off his sweater if it would be more comfortable, according to the second student.

The student stayed on the phone, because he said he was interested in discovering the true nature of the call.

"I was curious to see where he was going with this line of questioning," he said, adding that the caller then asked the student to remove his shirt, and after the student pretended to do so, asked him to also remove his pants.

"When he asked me to put my hand on my penis, I hung up," he said.

A spokesperson for Newsweek said that the magazine was not currently conducting polls of college students on sports, reading material or clothing.

The other student said he received a similar call from a caller also posing as a Newsweek pollster.

The caller asked the student survey-like questions, but again began to ask for more personal replies, according to the student.

"[H]e asked what I was wearing. When I gave a very general description, he asked for specific details, like what type of shoes and the color of my shirt. At this point, I definitely realized that this person was not from Newsweek," the student said.

"Before I could say anything, he abruptly hung up," he added

"After the call...I completely changed my clothes because I was nervous that he was waiting outside and I did not want him to identify me by my clothing," the student said.

The University has a policy for tracing repeated harassing calls, but advises students who feel uncomfortable with a phone call to hang up and call the Harvard police, said Patricia A. Murphy, manager of the communication center at University Information Systems.

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