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LGBTQ+ student groups at Harvard Law School criticized the school’s response to an instance of alleged homophobic and transphobic speech at an orientation event for second-year law students.
Lambda — an LGBTQ+ affinity group at the Law School — and HLS Queer Trans People of Color condemned the incident in a joint statement published on Oct. 6 in the Harvard Law Record. They urged the HLS administration “to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ people at Harvard Law and beyond.”
One student attending a Sept. 28 orientation session on cultural competency criticized the concept as contradictory to “natural law” and made homophobic and transphobic remarks, according to attendees. Other publications have previously reported this student’s views against same-sex marriage and transgender identity.
According to attendees, University of Maryland Law School professor Russell McClain, who led the Sept. 28 session, apologized for the impact of the incident the next day. One attendee asked if any HLS administrators present wanted to address the matter. Monica E. Monroe, the assistant dean for community, engagement, equity, and belonging, then said the school had contacted LGBTQ+ groups on campus about the incident but did not directly address the statements made the previous day.
In the Oct. 6 statement, the student groups affirmed their commitment to free speech, but added that “for free speech to be adequately protected, hate speech can not be tolerated.”
The letter also called on the school to train faculty and administrators to handle “hateful rhetoric” in the classroom, create ways for students and faculty to easily report it, and communicate more clearly with students when such incidents occur.
Harvard Law School spokesperson Jeff Neal did not comment on either the student groups’ statement or the events during the orientation sessions.
Hours after the student groups’ statements, Monroe sent an email to HLS students reminding them of the school’s policies on “community norms for engagement in shared spaces.”
“A classroom environment conducive to learning requires students to be able to engage with one another in an atmosphere that encourages experimentation, trying on arguments for size, and making mistakes,” Monroe wrote.
Victoria Abut, one of Lambda’s co-presidents, criticized Monroe’s email for failing to address the allegedly discriminatory remarks and for not mentioning that the school permits students to report misconduct despite its classroom non-attribution policy.
“They’re like, ‘Why haven’t students come up to us and talked to us about this student if they’ve been having issues?’ and it’s like, ‘A. Because you don’t tell them how to and B. You don’t tell them that they can,’” Abut said.
Neal did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the criticism of Monroe’s emails.
“It really would absolutely send such a fundamentally affirming message if the administration stood behind us, if the administration said, ‘The wellbeing of our marginalized students matters to us,’” Abut said.
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