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In Private Meeting About HCFA, Dean Cited Fears Harvard Seen as Attacking Christianity

Harvard College Faith and Action occupies offices in a building on Massachusetts Avenue near Harvard Yard.
Harvard College Faith and Action occupies offices in a building on Massachusetts Avenue near Harvard Yard. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Roland S. Davis told a handful of undergraduates the College is reluctant to punish Harvard College Faith and Action—put on “administrative probation” after demoting a woman in a same-sex relationship—in part because Harvard does not want to be seen as waging war on Christianity, according to the students.

A small group of students met with Davis March 9 to discuss the terms of HCFA’s probation and whether Harvard plans to sanction the religious group further. The Crimson previously reported that HCFA’s probation will have little immediate practical effect—the group will not lose the ability to book rooms, recruit students, or receive Undergraduate Council funding as part of its year-long probation.

At the March 9 meeting, Davis said some administrators worried Harvard would be perceived as waging war on Christianity if the College punished HCFA further, according to four students in attendance who spoke only on the condition of anonymity to describe a confidential meeting.

In an email to The Crimson Thursday, Davis apologized for making this comment. He wrote that he spoke “off-handedly and flippantly.”

“There are no concerns on the part of the administration about being perceived as going to war with Christianity,” he wrote.

Davis specifically pointed in his email to remarks he made at the meeting that referenced University President Drew G. Faust. Two of the four students in attendance said they remember Davis asserting Faust does not want to be remembered as the Harvard president who declared war on Christianity, though two said they did not specifically remember this.

Davis was “referring to President Faust in my comments in such a way that I did not intend to be taken as they were,” he wrote. “I apologize for those comments and I am sorry for how the students I was meeting with took them.”

Davis noted he was not speaking on behalf of Harvard or on behalf of Faust. Referencing the alleged worry Harvard would be perceived as anti-Christian, Davis wrote “this was never a concern expressed by anyone involved with this situation.”

University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson confirmed in an email that President Faust has not been involved in determining Harvard’s response to HCFA.

“As Associate Dean Davis pointed out, there is no suggestion that President Faust made the comments that seem to have been attributed to her. She did not,” Jackson wrote. “She has made no such comments, does not endorse the sentiment expressed, nor has she discussed the issue with Associate Dean Davis.”

“The matter has been handled by the College,” Jackson added.

Also at the meeting, Davis said there is still an ongoing investigation into HCFA and that the Office of Student Life is still trying to gather all the relevant facts, according to the four students. He said OSL administrators are meeting regularly with leaders of HCFA, the four students said.

Eunice A. N. Mwabe ’19 and Cooper B. Bryan ’19—the recently appointed co-presidents of HCFA—wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson they have been in communication with the OSL over the past few weeks.

“We have actively sought to engage with the OSL over the past two months,” Mwabe and Bryan wrote. “The OSL created a new category of punishment, ‘administrative probation,’ specifically for HCFA, and it has not outlined what is specifically required of HCFA to maintain status as a recognized student group.”

The OSL announced in February it had put HCFA on a year-long “probation” after finding the group had acted in a manner “grossly inconsistent” with the OSL’s guidelines for recognized student organizations—including Harvard’s non-discrimination policy. The Crimson reported Feb. 22 that the decision to punish HCFA was almost certainly linked to the group’s Sept. 2017 move to ask a woman in a same-sex relationship to resign from her leadership position within the organization.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane previously told The Crimson that, for HCFA to see its probationary status lifted, the group must disaffiliate from Christian Union, described as the organization’s “parent ministry” on HCFA’s website. Christian Union—a national organization that supports religious groups at all eight Ivy League schools and Stanford—currently provides HCFA with resources, funding, and ministry fellows who lead Bible courses.

“We have been and continue to be in compliance with Harvard’s policies,” Mwabe and Bryan wrote. “We have never received communication from the College that we are expected to cut ties with Christian Union.”

In early March, some students launched an email campaign urging administrators to more severely sanction HCFA. Earlier this month, undergraduates began circulating a separate petition criticizing OSL for not punishing HCFA more harshly.

“HCFA has never apologized for any wrongdoing, and while they have promised the OSL to disaffiliate from Christian Union, they clearly have not done so, as evidenced by their continued financial support,” the petition reads. “Harvard College can still stand by its queer and trans students.”

HCFA held a “Meet and Greet” at this year’s Visitas event for admitted students, according to the online Visitas schedule. The religious group was also present at the Visitas Activities Fair.

In response to HCFA’s presence at the activities fair—held in the Student Organization Center at Hilles—some students placed handwritten fliers around the building warning attendees of HCFA’s probationary status.

“ATTN: Visitors,” at least one flier read. “HCFA is on probation for anti-LGBT discrimination.”

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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