In Support of Amnesty

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

In an interview nearly two weeks ago, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said that the College plans to review its “amnesty policy” in response to an internal report on the April 2018 arrest of a black College student, which sparked allegations of police brutality. The incident took place following Yardfest, the College’s annual spring concert, during which medical transports were more than five times higher than the previous year and two emergency rooms became so overextended they turned away several intoxicated students.

The amnesty policy, which guarantees that students will not face disciplinary action from the College when they seek medical assistance for themselves or a friend using or providing alcohol or drugs, should not be viewed as a means to reduce the number of students under the influence. Likewise, the administration should not retract the protections the amnesty policy affords to students seeking medical assistance. While the increased number of emergency calls for intoxication and overdose at Yardfest is undoubtedly troubling, students’ comfort in reaching out for help should be protected.

While Khurana’s stated goal of clarifying the wording of the amnesty policy seems agreeable, we are concerned that changes to the policy in efforts to lessen the “encourag[ing]” behavior Khurana believes it to promote will result in less students relying on University medical resources in times of need. If changes to the policy lead to increased fear of disciplinary action, students might make emergency calls less frequently or later than would be best for their safety. Amidst any changes, the policy should continue to prioritize student safety.

Student deaths from alcohol and drug use are an all too common tragedy on college campuses nationwide. This policy is a critical measure against these incidents. Instead of withdrawing the protections of the amnesty policy, which would only encourage students to gamble with their safety, Harvard should focus on ensuring that Harvard University Health Services and Harvard University Police Department are sufficiently staffed to handle all calls during large, campus-wide events such as Yardfest.


The College’s review of the amnesty policy should, however, clarify how the protections apply when the Cambridge Police Department or Boston Police Department are involved. As we have opined in the past, Harvard students must know who they can and cannot contact under the amnesty policy in case of an emergency.

Finally, the University should not conflate vagueness in the language of the amnesty policy with the April 2018 incident. Doing so undermines the severity of the “profoundly disturbing” use of force used against the unarmed black College student. Instead, they should look closely at why HUHS became so overcrowded and conflict arose with CPD. Any vagueness in the amnesty policy does not excuse these shortcomings or the unfortunate events that took place as a result.

The amnesty policy encourages safer behavior among College undergraduates, encouraging students to seek medical help instead of taking risks that can, and often do, end in tragedy. In looking to the future, we hope the College will clarify the role of non-Harvard affiliated officials so that expectations are clear when a emergency call is made. A full emergency room during Yardfest is not ideal, but the alternative is far, far worse.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.