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Harvard Medical, Dental Students Allege Administrative Censorship in Annual Welcome Music Video

The Harvard Medical School is located in the Longwood Medical Area in Boston. Some HMS and School of Dental Medicine students said HMS administrators censored pro-Palestine imagery from an annual student-produced music video.
The Harvard Medical School is located in the Longwood Medical Area in Boston. Some HMS and School of Dental Medicine students said HMS administrators censored pro-Palestine imagery from an annual student-produced music video. By Krystal K. Phu
By Veronica H. Paulus and Akshaya Ravi, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Medical School and School of Dental Medicine students alleged administrative censorship over the removal of pro-Palestine imagery from the annual student-produced music video for new admits.

The video — produced annually by the HMS and HSDM first-year classes for newly admitted students — was posted to Youtube on Friday.

Originally, one scene of the video featured a poster with “MDS4P” and a drawing of a watermelon, in a reference to Medical and Dental Students for Palestine, an officially recognized HMS student group. The watermelon — which shares the same colors as the Palestinian flag — has emerged as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine in response to the war in Gaza.

But after the video was screened on March 19 before its release by several faculty members, including HMS Dean for Medical Education Bernard S. Chang ’93 and Dean of Students Fidencio Saldaña, the scene was cut from the final version.

According to an April 1 email from Chang and Saldaña to the Class of 2027, the two met with members of the video’s production team three days after the faculty screening to inform them that the sign was “inappropriate in this year’s video as it would likely be perceived as representing a political viewpoint and could alienate some members of the student body.”

One hour prior to the April 1 email, several student groups — including MDS4P, the HMS Chapter of the Student National Medical Association, and five HMS/HSDM affinity groups — sent a statement to HMS administrators to “ask for clarity” on the scene’s removal.

In a follow-up on April 18, one day prior to the video’s online release, Chang and Saldaña wrote, “We wish to acknowledge that your class has experienced discord in recent weeks, and we regret not communicating earlier and more completely to the affected student groups.”

Since then, some students have accused HMS and HSDM administrators of censorship.

In early April, a poster circulated at HMS titled “A Declaration of Censorship” claimed that the “censorship decision was communicated unprofessionally, off the record, and via phone call” and that the “review process lacked transparency and accountability.”

HMS spokesperson Ekaterina D. Pesheva wrote in an emailed statement that “both Harvard Medical School and Harvard University have reiterated unequivocally our shared commitment to free expression and public discourse.”

“There is a place and space for protest and expression of political advocacy, but it is not in a celebratory student music video, which is meant to be a non-political, festive piece and designed to create a supportive, inclusive environment for all students and to welcome newly admitted ones,” she added.

MDS4P representatives slammed the decision in a Friday interview with The Crimson, with one saying, “it’s not about the music video. It’s truly about principle.”

“The censorship is unacceptable, regardless of your opinions about Palestine,” the representative added.

In particular, the group claimed administrators imposed new restrictions on this year’s video.

“They do use the argument of things being political and use it as a means to exclude certain messaging,” the representative said, but “this has never happened before.”

The representatives cited last year’s music video as a “prime example,” in which students included a sign with the phrase “abortion is healthcare.”

The HMS/HSDM Student Council — which helped organize the music video team and posted the final project to its YouTube account — wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson that “we are committed to creating an environment where all voices are heard and respected.”

“The removed scene was designed to celebrate ‘the rich tapestry of identities and interests within our student body’ and that the administration’s directive is antithetical to our mission of ‘creat[ing] an environment where all voices are heard and respected,’” they wrote.

In a Sunday Instagram post, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee posted about the allegations of censorship around the music video, circulating a MDS4P statement and the statement signed by multiple HMS and HSDM student groups.

A representative for MDS4P said that in January, the group received an email from the HMS deans, reading that “the music video should not be the space for any political messages.”

In response to the email, the group decided to use the acronym MDS4P along with a watermelon, according to the representative.

“Whether that’s political or not is up for debate,” they said in an interview.

“It’s a duty for us as students to stand up for what’s right — to stand up for what we believe in,” an MDS4P representative said. “It is our duty as future physicians to do so.”

—Staff writer Veronica H. Paulus can be reached at veronica.paulus@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @VeronicaHPaulus.

—Staff writer Akshaya Ravi can be reached at akshaya.ravi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @akshayaravi22.

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