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Editorials

Student Voices and House Communities

Winthrop 2019

In a recent meeting, the Undergraduate Council voted against a measure that would have issued a formal statement of support for Danu A.K. Mudannayake ’20, a student activist, who has called for Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. to step down in the wake of his decision to represent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Mudannayake, a Crimson Design editor, was involved in an incident with Winthrop House tutors Carl L. and Valencia Miller during which Miller claimed Mudannayake harassed his family without provocation, and Mudannayake claimed Miller took pictures and videos of her while she was eating dinner. The two parties have filed reports with Harvard University Police Department reflecting their opposing accounts of the April 3 confrontation.

If the UC won’t stand behind its constituent students in their right to voice their opinions, then we will. This Board stands by the right of students to voice their opinions and free speech of students. Regardless of the nature of the differing opinions, they point to a concerning issue. We are deeply troubled by the state of affairs in Winthrop House. Our concern, as we have opined, began with Sullivan’s decision to take on the role of Weinstein’s attorney, while acting as faculty dean, a choice that made for a questionable House environment for victims of sexual misconduct and assault. Those concerns have been worsened by the perpetuation and heightening of troubling power dynamics in the House, as relates specifically to student-tutor relations and more broadly to students’ sense of place in a House community.

In critiquing the power dynamics in Winthrop House here, we do not claim to know the reality of the conflict in the dining hall two weeks ago. However, the way in which that conflict has played out makes clear that Harvard lacks an adequate procedure for these sorts of grievances outside of going to the police.

Given that, the University should establish or, if already in place, clarify institutional processes available to students when they may not feel comfortable expressing questions, concerns, or grievances to those figures who have explicit or implied hierarchical and potentially punitive authority over them. Students who choose to speak up should not have to fear retaliation in airing their concerns. Such a process should address and level power dynamics in institutional relationships by providing an impartial evaluative body and framework, much like the Title IX office exists for cases of sexual or gender-based harassment.

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We stand behind students who are making their voices heard to fight against these dynamics and this environment as well as those who have felt victimized by it. Moreover, we acknowledge that we are by no means the first to call attention to this issue. Rather, we hope to lift up the words of those around us who have spoken on their behalf, including the deans of other Houses and many of our peers. Last week, Eliot House Faculty Dean Gail A. O’Keefe sent an email to Eliot House denouncing the way in which the Millers have navigated the incident. We laud O’Keefe for standing behind her student and setting a positive example for the broader community. The language the Millers have used to describe and respond to the incident is disturbing at best.

As a community, we should continue to encourage students to voice their opinions. Students who speak out in our community — with the intent of and good-faith actions toward creating a welcoming and inclusive home for all — should feel safe in their ability to do so.

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.

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