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Students Criticize Response to Emailed Death Threat

Community Conversation: Racist Emails
Concerned students gathered for a community conversation in Holden Chapel on Oct. 8 evening in regard to the recent string of emails targeting predominantly Asian-American women on campus.

Just four days after hundreds of Harvard affiliates received a racially charged death threat email, several students expressed frustration and concern over the University’s response to the situation at a discussion event Tuesday night.

Around 30 students, administrators, and Harvard affiliates gathered in Holden Chapel for the discussion. Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn A. dela Peña, who hosted the event, encouraged students to use the time as an opportunity to voice their feelings in the wake of the emailed threat.

The administrative response to the threat dominated the evening discussion, as several students raised questions about what they perceived as a lackluster outreach effort from College administrators and the Harvard University Police Department.

College administrators have sent two emails to students regarding the threat—one from Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde that relayed the postponement of a pan-Asian discussion scheduled for Saturday and another from dela Peña that invited students to Tuesday’s discussion.

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Some students at the event said that those emails were insufficient, with many adding that they had expected an email directly from the dean of the College regarding the threat.

“All I ask for is a College-wide email...saying there has been a great loss, there has been a great tragedy in our community and in our midst, these are the resources, we feel for you,” said Shengxi Li ’15, who had received the emailed threat.

Li said that she directly emailed Lassonde and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana about the College’s response, and said that she was not satisfied with Lassonde’s response and had not received a response from Khurana by the time of the meeting.

The death threat was emailed to hundreds of Harvard affiliates on Friday afternoon. The author of the email, writing in broken English, threatened that he or she would come to Harvard and “shoot all of you.” The email, which referred to its recipients as “slit-eyes,” was sent mostly to women of Asian descent.

Several additional emails were subsequently sent to Harvard affiliates byone of the accounts that issued Friday’s threat, with some students saying that they had also been emailed personally by the sender. Some Harvard affiliates also reported having previously received emails from the same email account that sent Friday’s threat.

Students at the discussion expressed concern that even while people continued to receive these emails, HUPD had not sent many updates on the investigation. HUPD’s last email to students was sent on Saturday morning and no alert was sent out over MessageMe, the University-wide emergency notification system. One student described the lack of communication as “disconcerting.”

Throughout the discussion, dela Peña said multiple times that she felt “helpless” in the face of students’ questions and concerns because she too did not have any additional information on the investigation or HUPD’s communications. Lassonde spoke infrequently during the discussion except for asking clarifying questions, though he at one point assured students that administrators were concerned about the threats and said this was a “learning experience” for administrators.

At the conclusion of the hour-long conversation, dela Peña said she would reach out to HUPD for more updates, while Lassonde promised students that there would be an email sent out from the Dean of the College’s office.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at steven.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.

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