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Occupy Harvard Security Measures Cause Tension

Tercentenary Theatre is usually a bustling and popular area for tourists, but with the increased security due to Occupy Harvard, the only people visiting Widener Library are students.
Tercentenary Theatre is usually a bustling and popular area for tourists, but with the increased security due to Occupy Harvard, the only people visiting Widener Library are students. By Parul Agarwal
By Jose A. DelReal, Crimson Staff Writer

As the Harvard community continues to deal with heightened security measures surrounding the Yard—including checkpoints and restricted access to freshman dorms—Occupy Harvard protesters are fighting the sentiment that occupiers are to blame for the increased security, asserting that the administration is leveraging the security measures to cast the demonstration in a negative light.

Protesters and non-participants sympathetic to the movement argue that the security measures are an overreaction and send an antithetical message to the occupation’s goals of creating an inclusive space for public dialogue at Harvard.

“In the past, Harvard has not acted this way towards much larger security risks ... Last year there was an armed robbery in front of Thayer and the Yard wasn’t shut down then,” said Taras B. Dreszer ’14, who has been active in Occupy Harvard since the tent city was first built last week.

“We don’t feel like we did anything to warrant that security, and we shouldn’t be blamed for it. It’s 100 percent the Administration’s fault,” Dreszer said. “In my opinion they’re doing it out of fear that their image will be compromised. And they’re doing it to turn student opinion against us, which has had a certain degree of success.”

Last Thursday, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp issued a statement explaining their decision to restrict access to the Yard, a move they said was motivated by security concerns and not an attempt to stifle speech.

“First, we respect and protect the rights of members of the Harvard community to express their views on matters of public debate,” the statement read. “These rights, of course, are tempered by the rights of other members of our community to express their views, and for all of us to live, study, and work in an educationally appropriate environment.”

“The events of last night raised safety concerns: the number of demonstrators was large, many of the demonstrators were not from Harvard, and specific behaviors were troubling.  For this reason, the University took what we consider to be appropriate security precautions as the situation evolved during the evening,” Garber and Lapp added, referring to the events of Wednesday night when protesters first entered the Yard.

Over the weekend, Occupy Harvard released a statement through their website condemning the heightened security in the Yard.

“The ongoing ID checks and partial gate closures are as unnecessary as they are inconvenient,” the statement read. “Furthermore, the decision to only grant entry to Harvard ID holders has reinforced the institutional exclusivity and elitism that Occupy Harvard seeks to change.”

Faculty members have also raised concerns about the new security measures, ranging from logistical issues to questions of the symbolic implications of keeping the Yard locked down to non-Harvard affiliates.

Over the weekend, Law School Professor Duncan Kennedy ’64 penned a criticism of the security protocols in a letter to President Faust that was subsequently released to the media.

“I understand that it might have been the view of some that it was important to protect the symbolic center the University against an equally symbolic contamination by ‘outsiders,’ or that there were other questions of ‘image’ involved,” the letter read. “But ... as a participant, the massive security presence, albeit friendly enough, had a Homeland Security feel to it.”

History Associate Professor Alison F. Frank shares similar concerns and has decided to hold class off-campus at Café Algiers in Harvard Square this coming week.

“It’s not an expression of my passionate support for the Occupy Harvard movement. It’s an expression of my support of a campus that is open to the community,” Frank said. “You can’t have a dialogue if you’re afraid of people who are not formal members of the Harvard community.”

Frank asserts that limiting access to Harvard Yard to only those who have Harvard IDs sends the wrong message people who are not officially affiliated with the University.

Dreszer and other protesters are also expressing frustration with what they perceive to be the administration’s lack of willingness to engage protesters in conversation.

According to members of Occupy Harvard, the protest has made attempts to invite members of the administration to participate in general assemblies and to begin a dialogue about the occupation moving forward.

During a general assembly on the first night of the camp, Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson attempted to convince protesters to move to Tercentenary Theatre, where they would be less disruptive to freshman dorms.

Occupiers refused to move but invited Nelson to join the group for a general assembly the next day. Due to a miscommunication, Nelson did not make an appearance, leaving occupiers confused and discouraged.

A spokesperson for Faust and Garber declined to comment as to whether the president or provost had personally engaged with any of the occupiers.

—Staff writer Jose A. DelReal can be reached at jdelreal@college.harvard.edu.

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