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The Harvard Graduate Council launched a legal aid program aiming to assist graduate students with personal legal concerns, student leaders announced at an HGC meeting Monday.
The legal aid program allows students from any of Harvard’s 12 graduate and professional schools to sign up for free 30-minute legal consultation sessions.
At the appointments, the program will provide recommendations and referrals, but it will not offer legal representation. The program also will not provide advice on criminal cases or legal actions against Harvard University.
The HGC is a student government body representing students at Harvard’s graduate and professional schools.
Mark J. York, a student at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences who chaired an HGC subcommittee that developed the program, presented the new program to members of the council. He said the program will seek to make legal concerns less of a “black box” for graduate students.
“The hope is that this resource will make you feel like, okay, I can talk to someone, we’re gonna figure it out,” York said during Monday’s meeting.
Sign-ups for appointments opened on Saturday. By the start of Monday’s meeting, students had already booked seven of the eight consultations for October.
Three of the students who registered indicated they hoped to discuss immigration concerns. Other students sought help on issues such as a landlord-tenant dispute, a financial disagreement, state taxes, and divorce.
Attorney and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Bobby Constantino will offer consultations this semester.
Work on the legal aid program began in spring 2022 following a SEAS student survey conducted by the SEAS Graduate Council released in February of that year. In the survey, 44 students — approximately 73 percent of respondents — indicated they would find legal aid consultations useful.
Several of the respondents identified themselves as international students and said legal assistance would help them clear up visa issues. Other students cited housing and sexual harassment as areas of legal concern.
Theodore K. Sutherland, a Harvard Business School student who signed up for a consultation this month, described how he faced difficulties navigating housing in the U.S. as an international student from Ghana.
Sutherland alleged he and his wife discovered that their landlord was illegally handling their deposits. Originally, he looked for programs offering support in the greater Boston area, but other Massachusetts legal aid programs had long wait times and did not have experts who had the skills to deal with his needs.
“Let me talk to someone who is doing this for free from the Harvard community, who has an affiliation and wants to help other students,” he said.
He said he believes that the HGC program is a “helpful stepping stone” to gain “external perspective” so he would be more informed if he hired legal counsel later on.
After the program closes in December, program leaders will analyze what they learned during the semester-long pilot with the goal of implementing a fuller program in the spring. The HGC does not currently have a set plan for future semesters, according to York.
“We want to assess, ‘What is the need? How many students need legal aid? What types of students? What issues do they face?’” York said.
Correction: October 4, 2023
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that three registered students sought legal aid related to an inter-student dispute over money owed and state taxes. In fact, these three students sought assistance on a financial disagreement, state taxes, and divorce
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