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Rep. Pressley Visits Harvard Encampment, Says Students Should Not Face Disciplinary Action

Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks to a protester at the Harvard Yard encampment Firday.
Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks to a protester at the Harvard Yard encampment Firday. By Ike J. Park
By Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writer

Updated April 26, 2024 at 9:00 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-Mass.) said pro-Palestine student protesters should not face disciplinary action during an unauthorized visit Friday afternoon to the Harvard Yard encampment.

Despite Harvard Yard being closed to non-Harvard University ID holders all week, Classics professor Richard F. Thomas helped Pressley enter the Yard and visit the encampment, where she called the national response to pro-Palestine student activism “undemocratic” and “unjust” in an interview with The Crimson.

Harvard affiliates staged the encampment in front of the John Harvard statue just after noon on Wednesday and have remained there since. Though administrators checked protesters’ IDs again Friday morning and warned of disciplinary action in a Thursday email to students, it is unclear how — or when — the administration will seek to discipline protesters.

“I’m also doing everything that I can to ensure that there aren’t consequences,” Pressley said, while standing just steps away from the encampment.

Pressley and several journalists were able to enter Harvard Yard during the encampment despite access being limited to Harvard University ID holders since Sunday. Faculty of Arts and Sciences officials said Friday that the Yard would remain closed to the public until further notice.

In an internal email obtained by The Crimson Friday evening, Zachary M. Gingo, the associate dean of the FAS Office of Physical Resources and Planning, added that Johnston and Sever Gates will be fully closed beginning 10 p.m. Friday.

“We do this in response to the greater activity around the gates and the entrance to the Yard of several high-profile non-HUID holders featured in the media/social media,” Gingo wrote, adding that Securitas guards will be “more aggressive in scrutinizing IDs.”

Thomas, who escorted Pressley into the Yard, wrote in a statement that he had “no idea” if the visit was authorized by the University. Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Pressley’s visit to the encampment.

“I heard she was visiting Harvard, so offered to give her a quick tour of Widener, which I was honored to do,” Thomas wrote. “She seemed very interested and accepted my offer for a more leisurely tour in the future.”

Ricardo A. Sánchez, Pressley’s communications director, did not respond to a request for comment about whether she formally received permission to enter the Yard and meet with protesters at the encampment.

“It’s undemocratic, and it’s unjust,” Pressley said of the response to pro-Palestine student activism nationwide. “I think that every student, every person, deserves to show up fully authentically, unapologetically as themselves with their worldview, with the strength of their conviction — and should be able to do that without fear, without discrimination, and without any disciplinary action.”

Pressley said she met with interim President Alan M. Garber ’76 during his visit to Washington D.C. last week, adding that she is “regularly in communication” with presidents in higher education. Pressley declined to comment on his administration or its response to the encampment.

Pressley said she visited the encampment to show support for protesters, calling conversations with students “raw.”

“The main reason I came here today is because there’s really a deficit of hope,” Pressley said. “People are exhausted, depleted, and so I was hoping that I could come and just speak life and encouragement to people and let them know that I’m not going anywhere.”

Pressley then gestured to a circle of protesters dancing and playing live music in front of the John Harvard statue.

“You see what’s over there?” she asked. “The thing about movements is that it’s struggle, but there’s joy too. There’s joy in the work of liberation and we can’t lose that.”

Pressley also said she wants the students to feel that their protests are having a “great impact,” pointing to a recent increase in support for a congressional ceasefire resolution — both among members of Congress and in municipalities like Cambridge.

“Before policy can change, rhetoric has to change — and there has been a shift,” Pressley said.

“The people of Palestine are being named and considered in ways that has never been the case,” she added. “I don’t want organizers to lose sight of that.”

—Staff writers Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

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