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Harvard President Bacow to Meet with Black Student Leaders in Response to Letter on Leverett ‘Swatting’ Attack

Leverett House was established in 1931.
Leverett House was established in 1931. By Leah J. Teichholtz

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow agreed on Friday to meet with a group of Black student leaders after Harvard University Police Department officers earlier this month ordered four Black undergraduates out of their rooms at gunpoint while responding to a false 911 call in a “swatting” attack.

Dozens of student organizations co-signed an open letter of demands to top Harvard officials last week calling on the University to release a statement addressing the April 3 attack, which took place in Leverett House, an undergraduate dormitory. At least five HUPD officers armed with assault rifles and riot gear raided the suite at around 4:15 a.m., instructing the students to exit their rooms with their hands raised.

In addition to other complaints, the letter criticized administrators for waiting more than 60 hours before first issuing a statement about the attack, calling the silence “a failure in leadership.”

According to the letter, members of co-signatory organizations planned to stage a demonstration during Visitas — the College’s admitted students weekend, which took place from April 23–24 — if the University did not respond to the letter’s demands by the first day of Visitas.

Black Students Association President Angie Gabeau ’25 confirmed Monday that Bacow responded to the letter and agreed to meet with a group of student representatives.

“The University has gotten back to us,” said Gabeau, a Crimson Editorial editor. “They requested to have a meeting with five individuals who would represent the collective of people who wrote and co-signed this letter. We’re currently reaching back out to them, to give them the names of people that we want to see in the meeting.”

Black Community Leaders Co-Chair Brian A. Cromwell Jr. ’23 — who helped draft the original letter — and Black Graduate Student Alliance President Ebony Joy Johnson wrote in an emailed statement that the response came from Bacow’s chief of staff, Patricia S. “Patti” Bellinger ’83.

A date has not yet been set for the meeting, according to the statement.

Cromwell and Johnson wrote that the groups responded to Bellinger’s email Monday morning, specifically requesting that President-elect Claudine Gay be present at the meeting “because Bacow will be leaving the university shortly.”

“As the incoming university president, we believe Gay should be present if there is any chance of future progress regarding the systemic issues on our campus,” the statement reads.

The open letter signed by the student organizations also requested a town hall meeting with Bacow, Gay, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana to “discuss Harvard’s handling of issues of racial policing and HUPD protocol.”

In an interview Monday, Bacow defended his decision to not release a University-wide statement about the swatting attack, saying that he decided to remain silent in part because “there were already many people who had spoken out,” including HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay and Khurana.

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow is set to meet with Black student leaders in response to a letter demanding University action following a "swatting" attack at Leverett House.
Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow is set to meet with Black student leaders in response to a letter demanding University action following a "swatting" attack at Leverett House. By Addison Y. Liu

“I thought adding my voice again would not contribute much in part because everything that I would have said all had already been said by them,” Bacow said.

Bacow also refuted the idea that there was not an immediate response from the University, pointing to HUPD’s response to the swatting call and internal Leverett communications.

“There was an immediate response to the students — literally immediate — by the police who entered the room to explain why they were there,” he said. “There was a response from the faculty deans, there was a response to the house by the College.”

“So it’s not as if there was no response immediately,” he added.

Bacow said another, “more important” consideration behind the University’s response was to prevent the perpetrator of the attack from receiving more attention, advice the University received from federal authorities and other institutions that have been “subject to similar kinds of incidents.”

“What they’re seeking more than anything else is publicity. They are seeking to terrorize an entire community,” Bacow said. “If I speak it only gives the perpetrator of this crime more of what they seek.”

“We’re a big, fat target,” he added. “If people think that they can get the president to respond to anything, any act of provocation, it will only encourage more of that.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—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.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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