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HUPD Investigating Winthrop House Graffiti Calling for Sullivan’s Removal

After Winthrop House was vandalized, the "Down W Sullivan" graffitied on one of the house's doors was quickly cleaned off.
After Winthrop House was vandalized, the "Down W Sullivan" graffitied on one of the house's doors was quickly cleaned off. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Delano R. Franklin, and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University police are investigating graffiti found Monday morning that called for Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. to step down from his position.

A vandal used white spray paint to cover exterior doors and walls of each of the house’s three buildings — Beren, Standish, and Gore — with slogans reading “Down w Sullivan!,” “Your Silence is Violence,” “Whose Side Are You On?,” and “Our Rage is Self Defense.” Separately, students distributed flyers early Monday morning soliciting feedback on Sullivan’s recent decisions to publicly defend film producer Harvey Weinstein and Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., both of whom are accused of sexual misconduct.

Sullivan, who is also a Harvard Law School professor, has faced student scrutiny since the New York Post reported on Jan. 23 that he would join Weinstein’s legal team as Weinstein faces five counts of sexual abuse in a Manhattan court.

Two days after the Post story, Sullivan wrote an email to Winthrop residents defending his decision to join Weinstein’s legal team and wrote that defense lawyers have a duty to represent the “unpopular defendant.”

On Jan. 27, Sullivan criticized Harvard’s handling of three investigations into allegations Fryer sexually harassed women at his research lab in an article published by RealClearInvestigations. Sullivan — who was identified as Fryer’s lawyer in the article — called Harvard’s inquiries “deeply flawed and deeply unfair.”

Sullivan then followed up with another email to Winthrop residents on Feb. 4 — this time outlining “processes” that he and fellow Winthrop Faculty Dean Stephanie R. Robinson planned to implement. The processes included appointing Resident Dean Linda D. M. Chavers as the “point person” for sexual assault issues.

In the weeks following the announcement that Sullivan had joined Weinstein’s legal team, some students called for him to resign as faculty dean in protests, op-eds, and open letters.

In response to Winthrop residents’ concerns, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana emailed House affiliates Monday announcing that former Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 will lead a “climate review” to collect student responses to Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein.

Multiple "Down W Sullivan" phrases appeared graffitied on Winthrop House Monday morning.
Multiple "Down W Sullivan" phrases appeared graffitied on Winthrop House Monday morning. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah

Shortly after finding the graffiti and flyers, Winthrop House staff called Harvard University Police Department to launch an investigation, which is ongoing, HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an emailed statement.

Sullivan and Robinson sent an email to Winthrop affiliates later that morning condemning the vandalism.

“It bears emphasizing that criminal acts of vandalism have no place at Harvard College,” the email reads. “They violate our commitment to truth, our commitment to community, and our commitment to civil discourse and the robust exchange of ideas.”

While Sullivan and Robinson’s email did not describe the vandalism or directly address the criticisms he currently faces, it contained several paragraphs reaffirming the College’s commitment to a “robust exchange of ideas” and praising Winthrop residents’ conduct.

“We are proud of the manner in which Winthropians have responded to other various forms of provocation over the past three weeks,” the email reads.

Danu A. K. Mudannayake ’20, a Crimson Design editor, organized the production and distribution of flyers along with members of Our Harvard Can Do Better, an anti-sexual assault advocacy organization. The flyers were left in Winthrop’s dining hall and under some residents’ doors. Mudannayake said she and the other organizers were unaware of the graffiti until after it had been removed.

Some students said they had concerns about the spray-painted messages. Winthrop residents Sarah E. O’Keeffe ’20 and Amy E. Morrisett ’19 both said they thought the graffiti was not an appropriate way to express concerns about Sullivan.

“The graffiti seems kind of violent to me,” O’Keeffe said. “I recognize that Ron’s in a position where it’s more important because he’s a house administrator, but I’m just kind of uncomfortable with how people expect more of him.”

Morrisett added that while she is concerned about Sullivan’s decision, she disagrees with the vandal’s response.

“I’m not really happy with how this stuff has gone down, but I don’t really know if the vandalism is the way to respond to it,” she said.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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