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Harvard Prepares for Commencement Disruptions, Enlists Tutors as ‘De-Escalators’

Harvard College enlisted resident tutors to serve as designated de-escalators during this week's Commencement ceremonies as the University anticipates pro-Palestine protests at graduation.
Harvard College enlisted resident tutors to serve as designated de-escalators during this week's Commencement ceremonies as the University anticipates pro-Palestine protests at graduation. By Julian J. Giordano
By Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writer

The College enlisted a number of residential tutors across the 12 undergraduate Houses to serve as “de-escalators” during this week’s Commencement festivities as Harvard makes contingency plans for handling disruptive protests at graduation programming, according to two tutors who were asked to serve in the role.

Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason R. Meier, Senior Resident Dean Catherine R. Shapiro, and Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 led a training session for residential tutors during a Monday evening Zoom to discuss strategies for handling potential disruptions.

Tutors were told during the Zoom that Commencement events will not be canceled in the event of a protest, but they may be paused if a protest becomes too disruptive.

The meeting largely focused on the ceremonies hosted by each undergraduate House on Thursday, where students will receive their diplomas following Commencement’s Morning Exercises. More than 30 people attended the Zoom call, including resident tutors and House administrators.

The meeting was the latest in a series of similar planning sessions between College administrators and House faculty and resident deans, according to College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo.

Palumbo wrote in a statement that Harvard has “deep contingency planning” for Commencement every year so that families can enjoy the ceremonies, adding that there is a “higher probability” of protests this year due to recent “increased activity.”

“We feel it’s responsible to have a plan to tactfully connect with those inclined to protest and work together in ways that allow for the others to participate in the once in a lifetime exercises, especially given that many students and their families were deprived of a graduation celebration four years ago,” Palumbo wrote.

The meeting came one day after pro-Palestine protesters warned of disruptions to Commencement ceremonies during a rally outside the private home of interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76, citing the Harvard College Administrative Board’s decision to suspend five students and prevent 13 seniors from receiving their degrees.

Students have staged pro-Palestine walkouts during Commencement ceremonies at several other universities, including Tufts, Duke, and Boston University. Most recently, more than 100 students participated in a walkout at Yale University’s Commencement ceremony Monday.

Among tutors who were asked to participate as “de-escalators,” the atmosphere was supportive of both student protesters and those hoping to graduate without interruption, according to two tutors in attendance. The role is intended to support both students and staff, providing relief especially to administrative staff at Commencement ceremonies, according to the tutors.

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

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