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Students Hold ‘Emergency’ Meeting To Discuss Harvard's Response to Faith Group

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

UPDATED: May 6, 10:24 p.m.

Several College students gathered in an “emergency Harvard LGBT community action meeting” Friday afternoon to discuss the Office of Student Life’s alleged “refusal to sanction” Harvard College Faith and Action, according to emails sent over College email lists last week.

Roughly 20 undergraduates attended the meeting, which was organized by Matthew Keating ’20, Becina J. Ganther ’20, and Henry “Hank” R. Sparks ’21 and took place in the Phillips Brooks House, according to the organizers.

“The purpose of the meeting was essentially to gather as many stakeholders and interested members of the LGBTQ community at Harvard to discuss this issue,” Keating said. “It was really a way of making sure everyone who’s been working on this issue is not operating in silos.”

The College announced in late February it had placed HCFA on a year-long “administrative probation” after the group’s Sept. 2017 move to ask a woman in a same-sex relationship to resign from her leadership position within the organization.

Currently, it appears the OSL’s probation will have little immediate practical effect; HCFA will not lose the ability to book rooms or recruit students. After the announced probation, the student group has used Yenching Auditorium—a Harvard-operated venue—to host its weekly worship event, Doxa. At this year’s Visitas event for admitted students, HCFA hosted a meet-and-greet event and operated a booth at the Visitas Activities Fair.

According to the organizers of Friday’s meeting, attendees emphasized the need for the College to take stronger disciplinary action against HCFA.

“The major takeaway from the meeting was that, by and large, the community is really outraged about this issue, and I think the group touched upon several issues about why this is complicated,” Sparks said. “I think the biggest takeaway that had the most consensus was that this was a clear act of discrimination against a member of the LGBTQ community and that it merits a response.”

Sparks added that, in the near term, the group of students plans to put together an email campaign to pressure the OSL to place sanctions on HCFA to match the penalties of groups on non-administrative "probation."

“So right now, we’re thinking about launching an email campaign for students and for any other stakeholders that want to get involved, such as alumni, to lobby the Office of Student Life to follow the regulations that they’ve outlined in the handbook for student organizations that are on probation,” Sparks said.

According to the Harvard College Handbook for Students, student organizations can be placed on probation for failing to meet the “registration deadline,” turn in any “registration documents,” or pay off “debts with outside vendors.”

“During the probationary period, the [student group] will be unable to reserve space on campus, advertise for events, use the Harvard name, and/or participate in the visiting program or fall activity fairs,” the handbook reads.

Former HCFA presidents Scott Ely ’18 and Molly L. Richmond ’18 said college administrators told them HCFA was under a new type of probation.

In an interview last month, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana described the College’s approach to punishing HCFA as “an educational approach.”

“The Office of Student Life is closely working with HCFA leadership to ensure that they’re in compliance with all College policies,” he said. “We are following the same approach that we do with all student organizations when there are concerns about whether they are in violation with our policies.”

Some undergraduates previously organized an email campaign in March to urge the College to enforce stricter penalties on HCFA. Days after the email campaign, a small group of students met with Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Roland S. Davis to discuss the OSL’s plans to penalize the group.

Keating, Ganther, and Sparks said that in the short-term, they are focusing their advocacy on immediate disciplinary action.

“Right now we’re really just focused on the probation issue,” Ganther said. “I think that in order to come up with the long-term goals will take a lot more discussion with members of the community, members of faith communities, members of queer and trans communities, and a lot more time thinking about what it is that we actually want to do in the future.”

“We’re also thinking about the fact that Harvard as an institution is a school that a lot of other schools sometimes look to,” she added. “We don’t want to set precedent for any other part of the University or other school out there that discrimination is okay.”

Sparks and the other organizers said they appreciated the points attendees raised at the meeting Friday.

“I think it was a very successful meeting,” Sparks said. “I think a lot of people came and very respectfully engaged with each other about what they think should be done right and now and what sort of space HCFA should be.”

—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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Student GroupsStudent LifeCollege AdministrationReligious GroupsLGBTQFront Middle Feature