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When Sonya Kalara ’21 found out Harvard College Faith and Action had asked a student in a same-sex relationship to step down from a leadership position, her initial reaction was “visceral.”
“I’ve experienced homophobia in my life in a variety of circumstances,” Kalara said while sitting in Lamont Cafe Sunday. “And to know that, in the year 2018, at the college that I love, there is still this institutional backlash against queer people—it’s not surprising, but it’s still disappointing.”
Kalara was not alone: Brunching in residential Houses across campus Sunday, many undergraduates said they opposed HCFA’s move to demote the student as well as what they called the group’s negative stance toward BGLTQ Harvard affiliates. Others, though, said HCFA may not fully deserve probation—and some argued the group’s role on campus remains essential.
"I don't think that's right,” Carolina Quintero Arias ’20 said of HCFA’s dismissal of the student. “You can be LGBTQ and still be a Christian.”
“I’m definitely disappointed,” Elianna M. J. Shwayder ’18 said, pausing while eating in Eliot.
“The decision [HCFA] made was truly unacceptable,” Jackson C. Walker ’21 said.
The College placed HCFA on year-long “administrative probation” last week after “reviewing” the organization and concluding its behavior was “grossly inconsistent” with Harvard’s expectations for recognized student groups. The Crimson reported Thursday that the punishment was almost certainly tied to HCFA’s decision to force the resignation of the woman in the same-sex relationship.
The Harvard College Student Handbook bars recognized student groups from discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation.”
Members of the board of Harvard College Queer Students & Allies, an affinity group for BGLTQ students, wrote in an emailed statement Sunday they agree with the College’s punishment.
“We condemn any and all discrimination against BGLTQ+ individuals, and appreciate that the University is taking this situation seriously,” Kirsi Anselmi-Stith ’18, the group’s co-chair, wrote.
Other students also supported the College’s decision to put HCFA on probation. Some said they think HCFA’s actions clearly go against Harvard’s nondiscrimination policies.
"What they did was a clear violation of the handbook," Elena D. Sokoloski ‘18 said, looking up from her Kirkland brunch.
Kalara said she thinks the probation was necessary given Harvard policy. She called the punishment “definitely justified.”
HCFA co-presidents Scott Ely ’18 and Molly L. Richmond ’18 previously said they do not believe the group violated the College’s nondiscrimination policies.
“We reject any notion that we discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in our fellowship,” the co-presidents wrote in an email Wednesday. “Broadly speaking, the student in this case was removed because of an irreconcilable theological disagreement pertaining to our character standards.”
Ely and Richmond did not immediately respond to requests for comment on student criticisms Monday evening.
Still other students said they do not believe the situation was clear-cut. Some urged compassion for HCFA.
"[HCFA] might feel like they're being unfairly targeted for their religion," Sokoloski said.
Kent Toshima ’21 agreed, saying he thinks the College “should preserve individual liberty” in sensitive situations.
“I think, ultimately, the College shouldn't do something unless the group commits some kind of crime,” he said.
Nonetheless, students on both sides of the issue said they think HCFA serves a vital role on campus. Some undergraduates said they think it is important for students of faith to have representation in Cambridge.
"I think that the beauty of having a religious group is when it builds relationships between people," Shwayder said.
Walker, who represents Elm Yard on the Undergraduate Council, said he still believes HCFA forms a key part of Harvard.
“I know many people in HCFA that are strong in their faith and don’t support these decisions. Having groups like HCFA is really important on campus for people of faith,” he said.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
—Staff writer Luke W. Vrotsos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @luke_vrotsos.
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