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Harvard Student Groups, Alumni, Deans Condemn Leverett House ‘Swatting’ Attack

Harvard students, alumni, and deans voiced concerns and support for four Leverett House residents who were victims of a "swatting" attack early Monday morning.
Harvard students, alumni, and deans voiced concerns and support for four Leverett House residents who were victims of a "swatting" attack early Monday morning. By Leah J. Teichholtz
By J. Sellers Hill and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard students, administrators, and alumni condemned Monday’s early morning “swatting” attack, which saw at least five Harvard University Police Department officers enter a Leverett House suite with riot gear and assault rifles.

The officers, who were responding to a false 911 call about an armed individual in the dormitory, ordered the four students in the suite, who are Black, out of their rooms at gunpoint at approximately 4:15 a.m. Monday.

HUPD police chief Victor A. Clay wrote an update to undergraduates Wednesday evening, providing a timeline of the department’s response in greater detail. According to Clay, the caller claimed to be a student “kicked out” of Harvard who was armed and holding a woman hostage in the Leverett suite.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana acknowledged the “deeply troubling” attack in an email to undergraduates Wednesday evening.

“Many members of our community are understandably scared, frustrated, angry, and upset that something like this could happen on Harvard’s campus,” Khurana wrote. “We understand that the implications, fears, and trauma of an incident like this land differently for the impacted students and for communities of color more broadly.”

The Harvard Black Students Association and Harvard Undergraduate Black Community Leaders wrote that they were “deeply troubled” by the attack in a joint statement Tuesday.

“We pledge to offer our unwavering support and do everything in our power to ensure that those affected by this injustice receive the assistance and resources they need,” the statement reads.

Kendra Davenport Cotton — the mother of Jarah K. Cotton ’23, one of the students living in the suite — wrote in a statement early Wednesday morning that she was dissatisfied by the University’s response.

“While I do not believe race to be a factor in the university’s response, my gut is telling me that the administration would have a different posture if these were students of means,” Davenport Cotton wrote.

University spokespeople Jonathan L. Swain and Jason A. Newton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

BCL co-chair Brian A. Cromwell Jr. ’23 said he desired more concrete action from Harvard, though he said Khurana’s statement — which came two days after the police raid occurred — “provided some clarity.”

“The delay in their response is worrisome and the solutions provided don’t directly address the safety of Black students on campus,” Cromwell said in an interview Wednesday evening. “We urge the University to take a more rigorous approach to meeting this goal.”

College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Harvard Black Alumni Society also issued a statement Tuesday evening detailing the group’s reaction to the attack.

“HBAS is horrified and upset that Black students at Harvard endured such trauma in their own homes, where they should have been assured the utmost safety,” the statement reads.

HBAS President Monica M. Clark ’06 said while she understands the need for a swift police response, she would like to see Harvard more strongly consider student peace of mind.

“Some people have said, ‘Obviously, there’s been a lot of school shootings,’ and they understand why there might be a very forceful response given what’s going on,” Clark said. “I appreciate that and get that to a degree, but I still feel like there has to be some sort of balance between managing those kinds of risks and making sure students feel safe and comfortable in their home.”

“It just amplifies a fear that’s already in most Black people living in America,” she added.

The Harvard Undergraduate Association called the swatting attack “horrifying” in a statement on its Instagram page Wednesday evening, urging HUPD to “conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that justice is served.”

Prior to Khurana’s and Clay’s statements Wednesday evening, leaders from six undergraduate houses — Adams, Eliot, Kirkland, Leverett, Lowell, and Winthrop houses — acknowledged the swatting attack and offered support in emails to residents.

Lowell Faculty Deans David I. Laibson ’88 and Nina Zipser and Resident Dean Annie Park co-signed a statement to residents Wednesday afternoon, where they characterized the attack as “hateful and deeply traumatizing.”

Eliot Faculty Deans Stephanie A. Paulsell and Kevin J. Madigan emailed residents Tuesday evening, writing, “It’s awful to think of this happening in the place we call home.”

“There are echoes in this incident of some of the most troubling aspects of life in this country — the epidemic of gun violence, the disproportionate weight of policing on communities of color,” Paulsell and Madigan wrote.

—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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