The accusations surfaced on House lists this weekend in the form of an e-mail from the address email@example.com and signed by “Jennifer.”
A dozen members of the Phoenix did not respond to repeated requests for comment this weekend. Two members of the Porcellian—commonly known as the Porc—also declined comment.
Several friends of Phoenix members said this weekend that they had heard that the club’s initiation does involve raising chickens but that they do not believe that the animals are tortured.
In response to the allegations, the president of the animal rights group United Poultry Concerns sent a letter to Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and University President Lawrence H. Summers, urging the administration to take action.
Gross said this weekend that he received several e-mails from people concerned about the allegations of animal cruelty and that the administration had been in contact with the club.
Associate Dean of the College Judith Kidd contacted the Phoenix “in advance of this reported initiation ritual and had been assured it wasn’t going to happen,” Associate Dean of the College Thomas A. Dingman ’67 said in an interview yesterday.
“Personally, I find it surprising that Harvard undergraduates would act in such an immature and reckless fashion,” Dingman said. “And I’m sure that there will be plenty of people very interested in pointing to animal rights issues, if in fact the alleged cruelty took place. What action the college will take, if these alleged practices took place, I am not sure.”
Chickens have been a part of Phoenix initiations in the past.
In 1994, Phoenix members notably brought chickens with them into large Core classes.
And in 1999, Professor of Psychology Marc D. Hauser wrote an op-ed in The Crimson, decrying the club’s alleged practice of forcing new members to carry chickens around with them in crates.
“They apparently have no time to run free except when trying to escape, and to my knowledge, there is no one giving them proper animal care,” Hauser wrote. But this weekend’s e-mail from “Jennifer” alleges much more serious animal abuse on the part of Phoenix members.
“They have been ordered to torture and kill live chickens, which have been stored in undergraduate Houses in defiance of Harvard policy,” the e-mail says.
And although some have dismissed the e-mail as a prank, Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, says she is taking the allegations seriously.
Davis’ letter to Gross and Summers urges the administrators to immediately investigate the alleged acts of abuse and o file animal cruelty charges against any offenders.
Under Massachusetts state law, torturing animals is punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and up to a year in prison, according to Davis’ letter to the administrators.
“If the club members are guilty, they deserve the strongest allowable legal penalty,” Davis wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson. “In addition, they should be expelled from the University and forced to undergo psychological counseling—in prison.”
Davis said that Holly S. Lewis, a second-year student at Harvard Law School and president of the Harvard Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, told her about the allegations.