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Dozens of Black Harvard Groups Demand University Action After Leverett House ‘Swatting’ Attack

Leverett House's McKinlock Hall was built in 1926.
Leverett House's McKinlock Hall was built in 1926. By Julian J. Giordano
By J. Sellers Hill and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

Forty-five Harvard organizations co-signed a letter to administrators detailing a list of demands following the University’s response to a “swatting” attack that saw four Black undergraduates ordered out of their rooms at gunpoint by Harvard University Police Department officers earlier this month.

According to the letter, which was sent Wednesday, members of co-signatory organizations will stage a demonstration during Visitas — the College’s admitted students weekend — if the University does not respond to the demands by April 23. This year’s Visitas will take place from April 23 to April 24.

The letter follows a wave of student and alumni outrage following the April 3 swatting attack, which prompted at least five HUPD officers to enter the students’ Leverett House suite at approximately 4:15 a.m. with riot gear and assault rifles. The officers were responding to a false 911 call about an armed individual in the dormitory and later deemed the situation safe.

The letter, which was predominantly signed by Black student organizations, levies a series of criticisms of the University’s response to the attacks and makes five specific demands.

The letter calls for a University-wide statement recognizing the “significant racial impact” of the swatting, a “thorough investigation” by HUPD, increased transparency and accountability in campus policing, a “proactive” mental health response, and an in-person town hall with administrators.

“We condemn the University’s failure to, at large, protect its Black community’s emotional and physical wellbeing in the aftermath of such trauma,” the letter reads.

Harvard Undergraduate Black Community Leaders Co-Chair Brian A. Cromwell Jr. ’23, who helped write the letter, said the victims of the swatting were consulted throughout the drafting of the letter.

“I feel like this letter really brought a lot of aspects of all the Black Harvard community together,” Cromwell said Tuesday. “I think it kind of speaks to the demands and how really everyone feels like these are very reasonable and necessary things to be asked for.”

The letter also criticized an “inexcusable” delay in University communication after the incident. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay issued College-wide statements on the evening of April 5, roughly 66 hours after the swatting incident.

Ebony Joy Johnson — the president of the Black Graduate Student Alliance, which co-signed the letter — criticized the “administration’s failure to adequately address the swatting incident” in an emailed statement.

“It also does not sit well with my soul that there is silence around this incident. It is not acknowledged campus-wide and was only addressed at the college, leaving the broader Harvard community unaware of what actually took place on our campus grounds,” Johnson wrote.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that the University takes its responsibility to campus safety and wellbeing “very seriously.”

“University leaders have expressed their concern over the deeply troubling nature of the swatting incident that occurred on April 3, and the fear and anxiety it has caused in our community,” Newton wrote.

Two of the letter’s demands specifically concern HUPD, criticizing a “lack of transparency” and calling on the University to “immediately require HUPD to make its protocols and police reports available to students directly involved in police incidents.”

In an emailed statement Wednesday, HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote that the investigation into the swatting is still active.

“HUPD’s investigation into the April 3 swatting incident is ongoing, and we are continuing to engage with the FBI on the investigation. HUPD, along with the University and the College, is continuing to review both the incident and Harvard’s response to it,” he wrote.

Newton wrote that the University, College, and HUPD are working to “identify learnings that can be incorporated into the protocols that guide first responders, the University and our Schools when incidents like this happen.”

The letter also called for changes to the University’s mental health procedures around experiences of “racial trauma.”

“To help tend to the trauma they experienced from the swatting incident, the four Black students affected were forced to reach out to Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Service themselves in order to receive mental health support,” the letter reads.

“When the University is aware of incidents of racial trauma, particularly those inflicted by the University itself, CAMHS should be notified by the University with the student’s contact information so they are equipped to contact the students involved in a proactive and timely manner,” it adds.

Newton declined to comment on the letter’s claim that students sought support from CAMHS themselves when Harvard did not initially reach out.

In addition, the letter demanded a University-wide, in-person town hall with top Harvard leaders including President Lawrence S. Bacow, President-elect Claudine Gay, and Khurana.

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, helped organize graduate students behind the statement.

“The letter really is to honor the victims’ experience and to ensure that what they experienced doesn’t happen again,” Opoku-Agyeman said.

“At bare minimum, the letter definitely asks for a conversation, and so we’ll see how that conversation unfolds,” she added.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @nia_orakwue.

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