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Harvard College Reviewing Amnesty Policy, Khurana Says

Rakesh Khurana
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sits at his desk in University Hall.

The College is reviewing its “amnesty policy” in response to a fall report on the April 2018 forcible arrest of a black undergraduate, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview Friday.

The College’s amnesty policy — first implemented in 2007 and renewed in 2012 — grants intoxicated students under 21 exemption from University punishment in certain cases. Khurana said Friday the Dean of Students Office is working with the College to conduct the review in response to concerns that the policy’s current wording is confusing to undergraduates.

Under the current iteration of the amnesty policy, students who approach Harvard employees to seek help for themselves or for intoxicated friends will not be punished for underage drinking.

The policy has limits, though. It does not cover other illegal actions students commit while drunk, nor does it prevent local or state authorities from arresting students.

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On Friday, Khurana praised the fall report’s findings and said the College plans to make many “fine-grained” changes to how it runs events like Yardfest, the College’s annual spring concert. University administrators issued the report to evaluate its response in the wake of last year’s arrest. The April 13 confrontation sparked allegations of police brutality from some students and made national headlines.

The report found that University resources, including Harvard police and Harvard University Health Services, were stretched thin at last year’s Yardfest, which saw more than five times the number of medical transports that occurred the year before. All transports were for intoxication or overdoses. University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in the fall that two local emergency rooms became so “overloaded” that they refused to accept several intoxicated students that night.

“I think it really pointed out a number of areas that we want to strengthen from the College's perspective. We are responding in very fine-grained detail to things about how we manage the large-scale events,” Khurana said. “I think some of that was evidence in the Harvard-Yale game, but that was sort of off-campus. But I think in Yardfest, we will see those practices put in place.”

Khurana focused on the amnesty policy in particular, citing questions over the behavior it “encourages” among undergraduates.

“We're doing a review of what students refer to as the amnesty policy and to try to understand, make sure it's more clear and clarified about what it does do, what it encourages, and also where there's confusion, to remove that confusion,” he said.

Khurana added that administrators are considering both changes to the language of the policy and the way it is presented to students.

“We also learned that the nomenclature itself is confusing,” Khurana said. “There's a lot of opportunities to improve that communication.”

He said the College will also change Yardfest entry policies and reconsider information sent out in advance of the concert.

“We are also, and continue to do, a great deal of work on understanding the way that we work and the questions that exist among our students around a number of College policies,” Khurana said.

Former University President Drew G. Faust established the committee — chaired by Harvard Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed — that issued the report on the arrest in November. That report came months after Cambridge police officers forcibly arrested the undergraduate and charged him on four counts.

Prosecutors later dropped the charges in May following protests from other undergraduates and local officials.

In addition to addressing issues of underage drinking and its burden on local hospitals, the report also made recommendations for other College programs concerning mental health. Riley and other University administrators suggested that House and Yard staff undergo training for “multi-cultural competency in mental health support.”

Correction: Feb. 28, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that HUPD Chief of Police Francis "Bud" D. Riley issued the report on the arrest. In fact, former University President Drew G. Faust established the committee that issued the report.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at delano.franklin@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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