‘Review Committee’ Not a Direct Response to Student Demands, Faust Says

Faust at 2021 Convocation
University President Drew G. Faust.
The committee University President Drew G. Faust formed to examine the lead-up to the forcible arrest of a black undergraduate on April 13 is not a direct response to a student group’s open letter demanding reform, Faust said in an interview Tuesday.

Faust on Monday announced she was forming a “review committee”—chaired by Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed—to determine the exact “sequence of events” leading to the arrest and to undertake a “systematic examination” of a wide variety of Harvard policies.

The committee’s creation came a few days after Black Students Organizing for Change—a new student advocacy group working to ensure student safety—published an open letter demanding Harvard reform certain structures and policies some say led to the arrest. The letter also called on the University to acknowledge and commit to a list of 10 demands via written statement by May 1. As of Sunday, the letter had garnered more than 320 signatures from Harvard affiliates and student groups.

Faust’s Monday email met the group’s deadline, though it did not address BSOC’s specific demands.

“I’ve issued a statement of a really major action involving leaders from across and beyond the University and that will be the foundation for moving forward on this matter and trying to address the range of concerns that have come from so many different corners of the University,” Faust said in the interview Tuesday.


Faust also said one of the motivations for the committee was to understand “what can we do differently to make sure that we don’t have such an incident and disturbing event happen again.” This is not the first time Faust has called the arrest “disturbing”; on April 17, she sent an email to the student body similarly denouncing the incident.

“What are the lessons learned here? I think was clear from the outset: that this was an outcome that no one on this campus wanted or ever wanted to see again,” Faust said Tuesday.

Faust said she is aware there are many “conflicting versions” of the sequence of events April 13. She noted the fact the incident coincided with Yardfest, the College’s annual outdoor spring concert, and mentioned Harvard University Health Services saw “three times as many transports as they had anticipated” that night.

HUHS was first contacted about the student, but referred the call to the Harvard University Police Department, per internal policy. HUPD then transferred the call to the Cambridge Police Department, who had jurisdiction given the student was not standing on campus property. In the wake of the arrest, some have questioned why Cambridge Police were called.

The forcible arrest took place roughly two weeks ago, when three CPD officers and one Transit Police Department officer responded to calls about a naked man standing on Massachusetts Avenue around 9:09 p.m. on April 13. The student was likely under the influence of narcotics, according to tweets from CPD following the incident.

The officers involved tackled the student to the ground before arresting the undergraduate on charges including indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest.

A later CPD police report states the student clenched his fists and began making aggressive moves toward the officers, spurring them to tackle the undergraduate. But eyewitnesses—including members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association—have stated that CPD’s version of events is incorrect and that the officers acted “without provocation.”

A video of the incident later published by CPD shows the student standing still, surrounded by four officers, while the officers talk to him for at least several seconds. The student turns around and takes two steps towards one officer before taking a step back and raising his arms to chest-level. Another officer then tackles the student from behind.

While the student remained on the ground, at least one CPD officer punched the undergraduate in the stomach five times in an “ineffective” attempt to unpin the student’s arms and handcuff him, according to the CPD police report.

BLSA has called the incident an instance of police brutality, and Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Faust later called the incident “disturbing.”

Faust said Tuesday she is interested in “the whole factual basis of what had occurred.” She said she wants to understand “the pattern of communication” and the “kinds of issues” that might have “alerted us to some of these concerns earlier.”

Faust also raised questions about the “larger implications for how we might understand the responsibilities of students, of staff, and others at HUHS, of officers at HUPD, University protocols.”

The student remained in police custody in the hospital as of late April. He was being treated in part for mental health concerns. Partly because of these concerns, charges may be dropped. Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. has said CPD is considering whether it makes more sense to pursue the student’s case via a path outside the criminal justice system.

Law School professors Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Dehlia I. Umunna, who lead the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute, are now legally representing the student.

Faust said the University is “concerned” about the student and said she personally has not been in contact with the arrested student’s legal team.

“We want to support him in his desire to finish his work here,” she said. “That’s what we would see as our role is to help him get his work done as a student and to accomplish his goal of graduating from Harvard.”

BSOC formed in the days following the arrest. In an open letter addressed to the “Harvard Community,” the group wrote its mission is “to hold Harvard University accountable for the safety of community members, particularly Black and Brown students.”

A week after the arrest, more than 200 Harvard affiliates encircled University Hall with red duct tape over their mouths to protest the incident as part of a rally organized by BSOC. The rally served as BSOC’s first public action in response to the incident; the open letter is the second.

Asked about student activity and campus discussion surrounding the arrest, Faust said concerns from BSOC and other Harvard affiliates “underscore that in the minds of all of us” questions and issues of “wide concern.”

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and John S. Wilson Jr, recently-appointed senior adviser to the University president on diversity initiatives, have been meeting with students about the incident, according to Faust. She said she has been in “close communication” with the pair.

“That was very important to me as a foundation for understanding the wide range of questions that were raised,” Faust added.

—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.


Recommended Articles