In the final episode of Under Review, hosts Matteo Wong and Olivia Oldham continue to put competing reviews of racism and the Harvard police head-to-head, returning to the question: How can an institution with so much history have so little memory? Listen and subscribe on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
OGO: Previously, on Under Review:
Hilda M. Jordan: Black Lives Matter, at Harvard, too. Black lives matter! Black lives matter!
Cornell W. Brooks: studying the problem can lead to what martin luther king called the paralysis of analysis,
Brenda Bond: we say tell us, community, tell us what you think safety looks like or what makes you feel safe.
Ife Omidiran: what we want to do is to get up this idea that police are what make us safe, that the reason that you should feel safe on Harvard's campus is because there are officers walking, around with guns
MNW and OGO: We’re standing in front of 1033 Mass Ave, a tall, square, concrete building that’s almost brutalist. It’s facade is a grid, with big rectangular windows, like a parking garage. The windows look tinted from afar, but up close they’re just really, really dirty. We’re in front, and sniffing the chemical aroma, of a Domino’s pizza, but we’re interested in the glass door next to Domino’s, and in the offices behind the grimy windows on the sixth floor of this parking-garage-esque structure, doors and windows not many Harvard students have seen the other side of. A sign on the glass door reads: Harvard University Police, Sixth Floor.
MNW: I’m Matteo Wong
OGO: And I’m Olivia Oldham. This is the second part in the two-episode finale of Under Review, a podcast from Fifteen Minutes, the Crimson’s weekly magazine, in which we investigate what we’re calling “the Harvard Diversity Review.”
MNW: Over the past four episodes we’ve explored how this university responds to issues of race, racism, and diversity — primarily with task forces and committees, which issue diversity reviews and reports. The pattern stretches back to the 1970s, when Harvard first had appreciable numbers of nonwhite students, and has continued in Harvard’s sweeping statements and reviews about diversity in the past three years. In our final episode, we’re subjecting those sweeping task forces to a specific test: enormous debates over policing and racism at Harvard sparked by the sighting of Harvard University Police Department officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020.
Abolish HUPD Protest: Even closer to home, we know about the Harvard police being called in as reinforcements to intimidate protestors in Boston who filled the streets to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd.
OGO: We’d love to go behind the grimy windows of the sixth floor of 1033 Mass Ave, into the inner workings of the HUPD — but we can’t, so we’re doing the next best thing, exploring the efforts of two groups, to systematically review the HUPD. One group was a consulting firm hired by the University, called 21CP Solutions, short for 21st Century Policing Solutions.= The other group is a coalition of abolitionist students and activists called the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops, or HAACC. Both reviews began after the sighting of Harvard police at the BLM rally last June, and both published their reports in december of 2020. If you haven’t listened to the previous episode, we’d recommend doing so and then coming back.
MNW: As a quick recap, last episode we looked at differences, but also surprising similarities, between the 21CP and HAACC reports. 21CP and HAACC agreed that the current model of HUPD policing doesn’t work, and that the Harvard police take on a lot of responsibilities you don’t need armed officers for. HAACC, a group of abolitionists, doesn’t think policing is broken, per se — they see Harvard police harassing Black, brown, and unhomed people as exactly what policing, as a manifestation of structural racism, is intended to do. So they call for defunding and abolishing. Meanwhile the university-hired consultants 21CP recommended, in pillar 1 of their review, that Harvard engage a community-wide process to reimagine public safety, which to many sounds like another review — and we’re left with the question, how do we make sure that process leads to tangible change? As a student, Carter Nakamoto, told us last time,
Carter Nakamoto: The University has a penchant for, you know, ordering reports, for conducting surveys, and then basically, filing those results away, holding a few listening sessions, perhaps with students, and then not making material changes in response to their findings
MNW: And Brenda Bond, one of the 21CP Solutions reviewers, said
Bond: the University community will have to figure out how they hold the university leadership accountable for making something happen [...] that sounds maybe a little bit like the party line. But that's, who else will do that if the university community doesn't do that?
OGO: In many ways the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops seeks to do just that, to force the University’s hand to rapidly reimagine, or for HAACC, eliminate policing — they are not satisfied with a slow, bigger conversation over public safety because they have an answer. To their credit, 21CP Solutions, in their report, acknowledged Harvard’s tendency to delay and study. So the 21CP report has a second section, titled pillar 2, in which they recommend five areas in which the University should make short term changes to the HUPD in a two-year window — and that second pillar suggests urgency.
MNW: It’s hard to compare the specific and immediate demands of HAACC with the very broad and capacious recommendation from 21CP to reimagine public safety — we have no clue what such a reimagining will lead to. But we can compare HAACC’s demands with 21CP’s pillar 2, the short-term reforms. In this episode, we attempt a final accounting: What are HAACC’s precise, immediate demands of the University? What are 21CP’s short-term recommendations? If we scry into the past, at Harvard’s oft-forgotten but incredibly long history, have any of these been tried before? How do HAACC’s demands, or 21CP’s pillar 2, fit into a broad reimagining of public safety?
OGO: And how does this all fit into conversations about abolition versus reform, about reviewing the problem versus immediate change, and about the scale of reimagining the University in relation to race, racism, and diversity — And ultimately who do these reviews of the HUPD, and diversity reviews more generally, help? Coming up, on Under Review:
OGO: The central demand of the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops, as the name suggests, is defunding the Harvard police. This is Joan Steffen, a law school student who worked on the HAACC report, who we heard from last time:
Joan Steffen: So our first demand is to defund HUPD with a budget cut of at least 80%. I guess, in terms of comparing to the 21CP report, there's no mention of funding that I noticed in terms of cutting funding to HUPD. So even though there's sort of these, like suggestions that maybe services could be shifted to other other institutions or other University resources, there's not necessarily this demand that that the police department's budget be cut to reflect that. And that's concerning, because I've seen, you know, a lot of my work, I mentioned, is in sort of prison abolition, and Massachusetts has one of the lowest prison populations per capita, but one of the highest spending rates. And I think we've seen the same problem with police departments across the country where you know, rates of community harm defined as crime are falling, but police budgets are going up and up and up. So I think that's something that we wanted to really explicitly have in our report, is cutting the funding.
OGO: The closest 21CP’s second pillar of two-year solutions gets to defunding… well, it doesn’t. To defund HUPD is so drastic that it seems 21CP would only want that if the community process to reimagine public safety from pillar 1 concluded that defunding is what the Harvard community wants. As Bond, the 21CP reviewer, told us, about defunding:
Bond: That's a conversation that the university community needs to have, we can’t prescribe the best solution. What we can do is say, here are some things that you should really be thinking about and talking about. And obviously you’ll see that in our recommendation to have broader community conversations about how to define and operationalize community safety and well being.
MNW: The second HAACC demand we mentioned last episode — to end mutual aid agreements with municipal police — basically these agreements that let cambridge and boston police call on HUPD for assistance, which is what led to harvard bicycle patrol officers at that black lives matter rally in june. While 21CP calls for updating those agreements to reflect University values — which doesn’t really mean anything concrete and sounds a bit little like another review. Which, maybe, is the point.
OGO: HAACC’s next two demands are to disarm the Harvard police and to disclose all HUPD records, that is, full transparency.
Steffen: Our next demand is to disarm HUPD. I think that just gets to like the power that they have as the police department and the threat that they pose to students, the threat of violence from them as police officers. There's almost no reason that Harvard police officers should be armed while patrolling campus, while sitting in the dining hall, etcetera. It's just completely ridiculous.
OGO: Although 21CP doesn’t explicitly write, “disarm the HUPD,” the report remarks that armed officers in student dining halls is “an example of HUPD engagement efforts being identified not only as failing to further positive community relationships but as harmful and damaging to the HUPD-community dynamic.” Maybe it’s not unreasonable to think that 21CP’s temporary recommendation 2.2.1, updating the HUPD Policies & Guidelines Manual, could encompass something at least relevant to disarming police in certain contexts. Or maybe that is unreasonable — updating policies could be as trivial as modified guidelines for student interaction. 21CP Solutions, in response to requests for comment, referred us back to specific parts of their review. HUPD spokesperson steven catalano again declined to comment, and University spokespeople have declined to comment on-the-record throughout our reporting. Back to Joan, from HAACC:
Steffen: The next request is to disclose the records, so for more transparency. This is something that was also called for in the 21CP report. But without, I think I said before, you know, there's not really like a clear definition in that report of what exactly should be made publicly available.
OGO: And we can recall how, in order to write their report, HAACC really came up against the blackbox of HUPD. We want to metaphorically get behind the windows of HUPD headquarters, but in the middle of a pandemic, members like Amanda Chan did not want to have to actually go there to access HUPD records — except, they did:
Amanda Chan: This was right in the middle of COVID. And it would have been really ridiculous for people to have to risk their lives and well being and worse, the spread of a very new contagious and deadly disease. But that's what he insisted on us oing
MNW: The HUPD spokesperson, Steven Catalano, required HAACC to come to the HUPD headquarters because he said the records could only be accessed physically. In theory HAACC members should agree with the 21CP report on transparency. 21CP devotes an entire one of the five areas of short-term changes to transparency and data sharing. But to Joan, these measures in 21CP’s report, like a dashboard with statistics or more public data on calls for service, fall short:
Steffen: I think that both the 21CP report calls for this, and then Katie Lapp in her interview says that they're going to be setting up an HUPD dashboard with sort of data about how HUPD is spending its time, whether the incident reports and then some information about internal reviews or internal complaints. That aggregate data to us again, it's not enough. Like I said before, it's hard to get a sense of how legitimate these reports are and what sort of utility they're really serving or not serving our community with that sort of aggregate level data.
MNW: I will say that 21CP’s report, although it doesn’t provide details on the exact ways HUPD should be more transparent or what the dashboard should look like, does stress the importance of being timely and specific in the info and data HUPD shares
MNW: We know that as of the end of March, Harvard had formed a 13 person committee to consider these short term changes, and that they’ve started meeting. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, interim Harvard police chief Denis Downing said the dashboard should come out in a couple of months.
OGO: Which is promising — but also feels like such a bare minimum. The University is exposing the problem, at best. But going from a dashboard to policy changes is much harder — especially if it’s true, as Joan thinks, that the more general statistics likely to be made publicly available won’t be all that useful. Like we heard a couple of episodes ago, when we talked to experts in diversity in higher education like Daryl Smith and Francis Frei, identifying the problem, even exposing the problem, cannot be allowed to substitute for solving the problem.
MNW: On the other hand, we might recall how Noah Harris, the president of the Undergraduate Council, harvard’s student government, said that in focus groups with 21CP, since there is so little transparency with HUPD, he wasn’t able to provide very much specific feedback:
Noah Harris: it's kind of hard for us to, to recommend change, other than, you know, like I said, more transparency, these vary surface level things
MNW: and so maybe we can finally get beyond that, maybe at least some data sharing from HUPD means students, if they want to hold Harvard accountable, don’t need to embark on a months long, possibly life threatening journey like Joan and Amanda and HAACC did.
OGO: Although, there is that controversy from the end of this past March, in which a postdoc in the math department said HUPD officers questioned and detained him, telling him he was not free to go, but then described the interaction on the HUPD call log as a “field interview” — which to him seemed pretty inaccurate, although HUPD spokesperson steven catalano defended the term on technical grounds. So even when data is reported, when HUPD supposedly adheres to transparency regulations like the Clery Act that requires these call logs to be made public, transparency feels inadequate.
MNW: Right, like no matter how much we think we know, A) there are unknown unknowns, and B) knowledge isn’t action. Which I guess is part of why HAACC makes so many specific and ground-shaking recommendations, some of which go way outside the bounds of 21CP’s report:
Joan Steffen: Our next demand is to redistribute the HUPD budget to community members. So to redistribute that money to members of the Harvard community and to members of the unhoused community [...] we're also calling to open the gates to Harvard Yard. Because that's really fundamental. Like I think I've talked a lot on this in this conversation about how one of the major problems with how httpd certainly functions is sort of determining who belongs and who doesn't policing the boundaries of our campus. Just shifting that role to someone else like securitas is not going to solve that problem. It's just going to change the form that it takes. So we think it's important to just make our public spaces available to all and sort of stuff, this whole idea of policing boundaries, and just trying to make a determination of who is or isn't allowed to space.
OGO: So these two recommendations — redistributing the budget and opening the gates — are about what HAACC in their analysis saw as, to use Joan’s terms from last episode, the HUPD’s “terrorizing” of the Cambridge community. I spoke to Hannah O’Halloran, who is the Emergency Shelter Services Manager at the Somerville Homeless Coalition. She relayed this story that an unhoused community member who often sleeps in Harvard Square told her:
Hannah O’Halloran: One specific thing that this individual pointed out to me, he called it, I think he called it “The Receipt Rule.” And I asked him to elaborate, and he said that if you are homeless, and you're riding around Harvard, you need to have a receipt for the bike that you're on. Because our police officer will stop you and ask you for a receipt. And if you don't have it, then they will possibly arrest you for the bike not being yours.
OGO: HAACC’s is a vision expanding way beyond Harvard — to make all space public is to tackle the foundations of private property, and the property of whiteness, that their abolitionist vision works against. 21CP Solutions does write two paragraph about Harvard police and surrounding communities, their very last recommendation, which is to develop “tangible initiatives aimed at responses to external visitors or members of the surrounding community”
MNW: Which is at least hopeful — it might mean no more profiling of Black people in the Smith Center, for instance — but is very different from HAACC’s radical demand to open the gates. Even the language of “External visitors” or “surrounding community” still implies an inside and outside of Harvard, that the HUPD should tolerate the external world, but not necessarily that we should radically change what we consider inside and outside. It strikes me that HAACC’s vision in these demands, like opening the gates or redistirbuting HUPD funds — those get at the “core” processes, to use Daryl Smith’s terms from our third episode — they would involve fundamental changes to Harvard as an institution.
OGO: And HAACC’s final recommendation is also at the core, in which they suggest alternatives to the HUPD, including civilian response initiatives — because as we’ve mentioned in previous episodes, abolition is not just about defunding but also building something new.
Steffen: The last thing we call for is sort of these civilian response initiatives. We want Harvard to do more research about these and implementing them. We did have some ideas.
OGO: Some of their recommendations include expanding the student-run EMS service so police would never respond to medical emergencies, creating non-police safety escorts, and property insurance — that last idea, stolen property insurance, coming from statistics on HUPD’s website that 95 percent of crime on campus is property crime and that from HAACC’s research, the HUPD has a low success rate on resolving those. These recommendations aren’t out of line with a lot of what 21CP recommends, but they tend to go a few steps further in terms of specificity, like HAACC referencing other schools and cities with what they think are good models and focusing more on eliminating any police involvement.
Steffen: We specifically call for in-house residential therapists in the dorms to be those first responders in those situations. I think, I think the terms of what the University implements in that area, like the recommendations in the 21CP report, it’s a little bit vague. It's not clear if that person would be linked to say, like the Harvard disciplinary process, or what their sort of reporting obligations would be, etcetera. And, yeah, we're specifically calling for enhanced residential therapists for those problems. We're also calling one area that 21CP didn't talk about. [...] a form of harm in our community that the police are particularly ill suited to address, sexual assault on campus. So we specifically call for a sexual assault, non-mandatory reporting hotline and the creation of a discreet intervenors team to, not just for sexual assault, but to be able to appear and intervene in situations that require deescalation or moving someone to safety while sort of alleviating the threat of punishment for legal activities or retaliation. We also want a student run EMS service [...] 21 CP also called for having medical responders only for these issues. But they didn't really lay out specifics.
MNW: The consistent theme seems to be that, for the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops, the 21CP Solutions pillar 2 of short-term changes might not go far enough. That they are what abolitionists call “reformist,” not shrinking the criminal justice system but tinkering with it.
Steffen: Recommendation 2.5.3 is that they should consider how it might integrate existing campus community resources into its current deployment and response approaches. And they give CAMHS and Securitas as examples. And that is absolutely the wrong focus, in terms of trying to make HUPD more connected to these groups that are responding, right. That's like an anti abolitionists proposed approach, right — that's expanding the scope of HUPD.
MNW: And this tinkering is something Cornell Brooks, an HKS professor and former head of the NAACP, who we’ve heard from a few times on this podcast, noted as one problem with trying to reform police in the past
Brooks: This notion that we can fix policing with technocratic solutions, right. So in other words, if we just have more training, more tools, more data, we can turn our policing around. I want to suggest to you that we have tried this in a variety of contexts, and it's failed.
OGO: There’s somewhat of a tension in 21CP Solutions’ report, between the technocratic reform in pillar 2 and the broad reimagining of public safety in pillar 1. Pillar 2 is not reimagining HUPD, but tinkering with its current form and in some ways enhancing it, while pillar 1 offers the opportunity to start with a clean slate. But that broader pillar 1 of 21CP, which is literally a structural reimagining, seems so, as Joan put it last episode,
Steffen: open-ended and aspirational
OGO: And Joan simultaneously saw hope in this broader reimagining process 21CP recommended, but also worried such a reimagining is so open ended that it implies more and more reviews that might take a long time. And so HAACC demands the reimagining of public safety at Harvard, also, but in a specific way
MNW: Alright, but if we think about how HAACC’s demands to defund, disarm, open the gates also entail reimagining the meaning of public safety — they are concrete demands, not open-ended, as you said — they might be just as aspirational as 21CP’s vision to “reimagine public safety.” I just don’t see the University any time soon defunding its police department by 100%, or 80%, or even 40%. And so we’re pointing out this tension between small reforms to HUPD and bigger structural changes to how we define safety and property. But for Bond, there was no tension. It’s about thinking in the short and long term:
Bond: The reality is that right now, you and Harvard University have a police department. And the University needs to decide whether or not they want to address some of the identified challenges or weaknesses in the existing unit. So if they don't do anything about any of those things right now, but they literally jump right into and invest heavily in pillar one, then those, those issues are still existing and remaining. So they're not fixing those things. So is that something that the University wants to do, right? And so and I can't, I'm not going to answer that question. Because the reality is, you have a unit. And if you decide that you're keeping that unit right now, while you're trying to engage in and facilitate this reimagining process, what are the kinds of things that you can do with that unit right now?
MNW: To that end, Noah Harris, the UC president, unlike members of HAACC, liked the second pillar more than the first pillar, because to him the first pillar was just too broad, it didn’t do anything.
Harris: I think the better part is probably the second pillar that kind of gets at what HUPD couldn't be doing better. I kind of wish the maybe the report spent more time on that
MNW: Noah is on the 13 person committee that started meeting at the end of March to consider implementing some of these short-term and other changes to HUPD that we mentioned earlier. In his interview with the gazette, chief downing said, “we continue to have a shared conversation with community members, and with advice from 21CP Solutions, on what types of calls the HUPD should respond to, and how this could change from what we’ve been doing up until now” — which seems promising in terms of reimagining or shrinking HUPD’s role.
OGO: I guess part of the concern about pillar 2 and short-term reforms is, if these small and seemingly technocratic solutions, updating guidelines and diversity trainings and diverse hiring practices, that the 21CP short-term changes consist of, seem reformist and cautious, is there much hope that this big reimagining public safety process will go further? Here’s Bond again:
Bond: I don't have all the answers. But I'm very comfortable with that. Because we all have very different experiences and different ways of thinking about it. And this is where we get the good answers.
OGO: Well, here’s one answer that’s being floated: In that interview with the harvard gazette, interim HUPD chief Downing also said that he wants HUPD officers to get to know the students better, to be more closely connected with the Harvard community, which is explicitly anti-abolitionist. If we accept these technocratic changes as stop-gap measures, maybe that closes off our imaginations to the possibility of abolition or limits other ways we might redefine safety and well-being in the long term. Instead, we might end up studying and reviewing and getting mired in improving the current system. Brooks also speaks to this:
Brooks: the study of the problem can in some ways, reinforce the problem, meaning when we study the problem, and the and the study leads to a call for more resources, more tools, more financial resources
MNW: So maybe the system’s been broken so long that we need something big, unprecedented, to shake it up right now. And a lot of HAACC’s recommendations, like expanding student run emergency medical services, both don’t call for more policing resources and seem feasible in the short-term. The abolitionist group’s mindset, of urgently needing radical change, might be the difference between HAACC and 21CP: the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops, in fact, did a very thorough review of the history of Harvard police, and the history of what they see as failed attempts to reform the HUPD, and that heavily informed the shape, tone, and urgency of their demands to abolish the police
Steffen: I think that Historical Review is also really important. And it gives us more insight, honestly, than some 21CP findings — for example, some of their recommendations are things that have been tried in the past and have failed.
OGO: The Yard Police were established sometime in the 1890s, and by 1913, a few officers were employed by the University, working out of the basement of Thayer.
Steffen: The Harvard — the original members of the Harvard police force were, were formed as like a yard patrol, to patrol Harvard Yard and again, doing that same exact function of determining who belongs and who doesn't, and who can be present in that space and who can't.
OGO: The way that Joan sees it, the history of the Harvard University Police Department can be split into three themes. The first theme, to use the language of HAACC, is how HUPD has historically protected property, in part by regulating who can and cannot be on campus. We heard Joan describe this last time:
Steffen: So this idea that whiteness is this form of privilege and entitlement that functions almost like a property entitlement. And we see that sort of really clearly manifested in terms of like access to the physical spaces of Harvard Yard. [...] And, and taking that sort of, from the abstract to the tangible, you know, when when we have this armed police force, who's tasked with sort of trying to make this determination of who belongs and who doesn't
OGO: The HAACC report found that in the 1920s, HUPD officers began writing parking tickets and towing cars. HUPD caught a lot of flack for this, because it wasn’t clear whether they even had the power to this. Meanwhile — as a recent Fifteen Minutes staff writer, Simon j. Levien, explored in his piece, ‘The Crimson Klan’ — students were parading through the Yard wearing Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia.
MNW: That’s horrible. It makes you think: Those donning KKK robes quote-unquote ‘belong’ on campus, and at the same time, HUPD devotes its energies towards parking tickets. And we see this tendency repeat itself, of the HUPD policing the boundaries of who is or isn’t a member of the Harvard community — and assuming those who don’t belong are “threats.”
Steffen: So one really interesting story that I knew nothing about was about a group, a collective of women, in 1971, who occupied a Harvard building for 10 days and turned it into the Liberated Women's Center, where they were demanding affordable housing for the predominantly Black Riverside community in Cambridge. That is really, really cool. And something I never knew about.
OGO: The Liberated Women’s Center released a set of demands in their occupation of the building, including to turn the building into housing for lower-income Cambridge residents and demanded that Harvard develop a women’s center. A few days later, the group caught wind that HUPD was going to raid the building, and fled. Though the threat ended up being empty — HUPD showed up in smaller numbers than expected — the Women’s Center was no more.
In the Crimson the next day, the HUPD police chief said that if there had been a bust "It would have been the Cambridge police, with our assistance on the outside."
Steffen: And I think that has sort of been like, echoed over the years, and sort of the effect that Harvard has had on the larger Cambridge community. There's an incident, for example, in the 80s, where Harvard, the Harvard Police Department arrested eight Black youths and held them without allowing them to call their parents. And that was, of course, challenged by the Cambridge community, and the outcome of that investigation, and HUPD was dismissed.
MNW: HUPD has played a big part in policing the local community since as early as 1971, if not later. Since Harvard is in the middle of Cambridge, policing Harvard has also meant policing Cambridge spaces and residents, whether it means involving themselves in this building occupation, which demanded low-income housing, or by arresting young Black people in the community in the 80s.
OGO: The boundaries of Harvard aren’t clearly marked by its gates, it seems, at least when it comes to policing. And that policing of boundaries sometimes turns against Harvard’s own students — I’m thinking of an incident in 2007 that started the “I Am Harvard” protest — the same protest that spawned the “I, Too, Am Harvard” play in 2014, which spawned the Harvard College Working Group. “I Am Harvard” was defined by a question of who belongs on Harvard’s campus and how HUPD mediates that.
Brian Barnhil: My name is Brian Barnhill Harvard class of 2008.
OGO: In 2007, Brian was the president of the Black Men’s Forum.
Barnhill: And there was somewhat of a tradition that we would engage in and do a joint event with our sister organization called the Association of Black Harvard Women, affectionately known as ibwa. So, during reading period, we would do a field day. And this was, you know, a couple of hours that we would spend together. Don in our BMS and ABA paraphernalia t shirts, and we would take a moment to have a, an aside from the rigors of reading period to, you know, innocently have a day of relay races.
OGO: The group had gotten permission to host the event on the quad, had jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops. Yet in the middle of the activities, a member of the black men’s forum called Brian and told him that a heated email debate was going on on the Cabot House mailing list.
Barnhill: And it was initiated by an individual who said that there were some strange people on our lawn. Creating a disruption. And now mind you I live in the Quad.
Barnhill: But shortly after that call a police officer came up on a motorcycle. And I believe my social secretary talked to the officer. And, you know, just informed the officer that we were Harvard students. I think the officer could tell that we were just based upon our T-shirts, and the officer left. So there was, there was no issue with the officer whatsoever.
Barnhill: And, you know, the thing that was annoying and frustrating for us was that just a day prior, there was an impromptu gathering of students who also live in the quad, who were all white.
OGO: So, even though the incident didn’t escalate with the HUPD officer, there was this element of them being in charge of evaluating who belongs and who doesn’t.
MNW: And we see this play out today in all of the data in HAACC’s report, or highly visible incidents of HUPD harassing unhoused people in Smith, or the 2019 incident we mentioned where HUPD responded to complaints about the art project in the performing latinidad class. All of which has boiled over in to massive protests of late.
OGO: To that point, the second theme Joan noted was how HUPD has historically interacted with student activism, particularly from students on the left of the political spectrum.
Steffen: But one of the big, big things that came out was the sort of response to, HUPD’s response to student activism on campus or student political organizing, and sort of who they saw as worthy of a police presence and who they didn't and who was, who they reacted to with violence and who they collaborated and cooperated with.
MNW: I, and probably many others, hear this and immediately think of the University Hall occupations of the late 60s and early 70s, against the Vietnam War or South African apartheid.
OGO: Famously, in 1969, hundreds of people were arrested for protesting the Vietnam War, in a bloody clash. But the instances of student activism butting heads with HUPD is so prevalent throughout the twentieth century, from arresting anti-Nazi protestors in 1934, to closing down a John Reed club meeting during the 1950s Red Scare, to shutting down the aforementioned Liberated Women’s Center in 1971.
MNW: Student activism, it seems to me, is so tied up in accountability. Members of HAACC described how difficult it was to get access to HUPD police logs, so that they could create their report. If students don’t have access to HUPD archives, they can’t begin to critique it and act against it. Another instance, back in 2004, demonstrates the opacity of HUPD.
Amit Paley: So when I spent a lot of my time as an undergrad working on the crimson and trying to get information to the Harvard community and to the general public that I and others in the krimson thought was really important for the public to know about, and that that intersected with a couple different issues that related to access and, and Harvard trying to keep records secret that we did not believe should be kept secret.
MNW: This is Amit R. Paley, class of 2004, who served as the Crimson’s president and is currently on the Crimson’s Graduate Council Executive Committee. Amit was well-attuned to what he has called a ‘culture of secrecy’ about Harvard’s internal workings and discrimination at the University, both past and present. In 2002, Amit wrote a groundbreaking article for fifteen minutes about the harvard secret court of 1924, a secret tribunal held by 5 harvard administrators to investigate same sex attraction on campus, and his piece was cited in the supreme court case lawrence v texas. A year later, in 2003, Amit and the Crimson wanted to access HUPD crime records that could have contained important information about allegations of race and sex discrimination by Harvard police officers.. The University said no, and that summer, the Crimson sued on the grounds that Massachusetts law would have required a municipal police force to make those records public.
Paley: And then I think when it comes to the, the police, I just think to me, it is such a, it is so clear that when that when that when people have the ability to deprive people of their liberty of their physical safety, to imprison people to use force against people, that is an incredible power that is given and that society, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided to give that power to Harvard University Police officers.
Paley: There were two forms of state police power that were given to the Harvard University Police Department, I believe that they were given some types of power as sheriffs and they were given some types of power by, I think it might have been the superintendent of police.
MNW: The HUPD had been granted power similar to that of local police departments, yet were not subject to the same transparency laws. And to this day, according to the HUPD website, Harvard police officers “are sworn special State Police officers with deputy sheriff powers” with “the authority to enforce state and local laws and University policies” — yet the lack of transparency, more than 15 years after Amit did his investigation, continues.
Paley: And it was, it was this sort of strange situation, which I think a lot of people at that time did not appreciate, that you had, you had individuals employed by a private institution that had significant powers of the state and significant police, law enforcement powers of the state. And that, to us, that made a really clear legal argument that given that they've been granted these powers by these public agencies, they should be accountable to the same checks and balances as public agencies.
MNW: The case dragged on. The Crimson lost in several rounds of litigation, the students who originally filed graduated, and two and a half years later in 2006 the case was finally resolved when the massachusetts’ state superior court ruled in Harvard’s favor.
OGO: It seems that students have been butting heads with HUPD for a long time. And meanwhile, HUPD has tried to change, mostly by way of reform. Being on the modern front of reform, with mixed results, was the third theme in HUPD history that Joan pointed out.
Steffen: I think, also just seeing over and over again, how Harvard kind of actually was in many cases at the front end of the curve, and sort of the different efforts at police reform that we've seen in the past. So Harvard was really at the cutting edge for introducing sort of computerized policing and trying to use technology for surveillance and data about things like arrests and incident reports to sort of redistribute their officers and target, quote unquote, “high crime” areas and sort of turn policing into more of a science. That obviously didn't work in terms of addressing the problems that we're concerned about. Then Harvard was also at the forefront of trying to implement community policing as well. And again, like more recently, Harvard tried to do, you know, diversity and equity initiatives with the police department that also haven't solved the problem. So I think, over and over again, we've seen these efforts that reform that have fallen, fallen completely flat. And I think that, thatjust underscores for us another reason why abolition is just so necessary.
OGO: In 1973, HUPD created the Security Student Patrol, where students would police the community. In the same year they put two million dollars toward security, including developing CCTV, and in ’74, they created a Crime Task Force of plainclothes officers. These reforms didn’t really work; in 1974 Harvard spent $1 million-plus on security but saw losses to theft grow 46%. Throughout the 70s, it continued to modernize, and it hired its first Black police chief, Saul Chafin, in 1978. Later, in 1983, HUPD hired another Black police chief named Paul Johnson.
Steffen: So like Harvard has, Harvard Police Department has explicitly tried this before, it was one of the promises of the former Police Chief Riley. The police chief beforehand was a Black man, police chief Johnson. And his tenure was characterized by just repeated incidents of racial discrimination by HUPD, criticism from some Black student organizations, you know, throughout his tenure in the 1980s and 1990s. So that obviously hasn't been successful in the past.
OGO: And Riley was brought in in 1995 to improve relations between police and the Harvard community, championing a community policing model, diversity trainings, diverse hiring practices, and the like. Yet throughout his tenure — and especially in the past few years — we’ve seen numerous incidents of what many call racist and anti-poor policing, as we’ve described over the past couple of episodes.
MNW: Yeah, I mean that incident with the Black Men’s Forum in 2007 triggered its own series of responses from University administration. Barnhill organized the I am Harvard campaign afterward, to bring attention to anti-Black racism at the institution, which included a protest before Primal Scream that year
Barnhill: So we wanted to utilize this as a moment to make a statement that the Harvard student population is diverse. And we're just as much a part of this institution as you are. And that was a whole spirit behind the I am Harvard campaign [...] I feel like the community appreciated what we did. President Drew Faust was the president at that time. In response, she agreed to form a campus climate committee to address these issues
MNW: So of course, Faust formed a committee, and in addition to that a huge review of the HUPD was convened in 2008, releasing a hundred-plus page report in 2009. It found many of the same problems as reviews of HUPD from 2018 and 2020 — lack of transparency, distrust of police, racist incidents, and so on. But the tone of this 2009 report is all about community policing, noting “how much common ground there is between the HUPD officers and other members of the Harvard community” — and the recommendations are basically ways to integrate HUPD with Harvard better and create good relations with students. In response to this 2009 report, Harvard created a Safety Advisory Committee to consider how to better integrate HUPD into Harvard’s campus. So we see a few things here: response to controversy with a review, and the review consisting of reformist approaches to policing, to integrating HUPD and creating mutual understanding instead of tackling structural problems of racism and policing, which is both reflective of the history of HUPD reform we just went over, and harkens back to our third episode, when we saw how Harvard for 40 years has elected an integrationist model to racism and diversity, encouraging interactions and cultural understanding over really tackling structural issues.
OGO: All these reforms and reviews of HUPD remind me, also, of all the reviews and changes we’ve seen to diversity more broadly, from the first one, the 1980 study of race relations, to the enormous presidential task force on inclusion and belonging, seem to forget their past iterations, or at least be uncannily repetitive. It’s striking how many of the short-term recommendations in the 2020 report by 21CP are similar to recommendations in the 2018 report of the HUPD issued after Yardfest, which we discussed in episode 1: consider medically trained responders, transparency, rethink HUPD relationships to surrounding police, be attuned to needs of students of color. So to HAACC, this history and pattern of HUPD reform, whether it is technological or through representation, is untenable. They see abolition as the only answer because of the historical failure of reform within HUPD. As Brooks put it,
Brooks rerecord: What we need is wholescale — systemic, foundational, radical, as in at the root — transformation of policing, in the American context.
OGO: So we return to today’s conflict over the future of the HUPD — although our present is caught up, it seems, in the endless cycles and reverberations of the past.
MNW: A lot of the trends in past reforms to the HUPD — like diverse hiring, diversity training, community policing models, and so on, all of which have failed to stop recurring feelings of unsafety and troubling incidents of racist and anti-poor policing for decades of HUPD’s history — track closely, if not in timeline than in terms of implementation and falling short, to attempts nationwide over decades to end violent and racist policing. There are so many reasons Brooks said police reform has failed:
Brooks: Some of it has to do with the focus on performing policing broadly without addressing racism, particularly
Brooks: Mass incarceration is literally the fruit, literally the manifestation of systemic racism on the back end. And destructive policing is the manifestation of systemic racism on the front end.
Brooks: studying the problem can lead to what martin luther king called the paralysis of analysis
Brooks: police taking responsibility for that which they are manifestly unqualified to do.
Brooks: we study the problem, and the and the study leads to a call for more resources.
MNW: It seems like a lot of those apply to Harvard, and a lot of them have to do with the Harvard diversity review — focusing on policing without focusing on racism is similar to how 21CP focused on the entire Harvard community and weighted everyone’s opinion equally, which doesn’t center the how policing disproportionately impacts Black and brown students, those perceived as poor, transgender people, and so on. Or how the 2018 presidential task force on inclusion and belonging equating racial and class diversity to that of political ideology. Or how the 2018 Yardfest report focused on changing Yardfest as much as changing HUPD policy.
OGO: And looking at this long history of HUPD, it’s full of instances of reforming police consisting of more money, new computer systems, hiring more diverse officers, diversity training — which are all things 21CP recommends in their pillar 2 of short term solutions. I don’t see them turning out differently. Ironically it was a bicycle patrol, which HUPD chief riley implemented as a measure to improve community relations in the 1990s, that was sighted at that BLM rally in franklin park last june.
MNW: And then this notion Brooks raised of the paralysis of analysis — I mean, that could be a title of any one of our episodes, this seems to be what diversity reviews at Harvard, especially, do: study and delay. Not necessarily with bad intent, but there’s this confluence of factors — Harvard is huge and decentralized. Harvard is old and slow-moving. Harvard is insulated from competitive incentives to make big changes on diversity fronts. Some perceive Harvard as wanting to protect its status as super elite. Harvard is born out of slavery and hierarchy. Harvard is full of academics who think studying is important. And there’s a lot more — the Harvard diversity review might be especially predisposed to the paralysis of analysis. The question becomes, how do you force a review to turn into action — especially at an institution where the people often agitating the most for change — students — grow exhausted and inevitably graduate on a 4 year cycle?
Brooks: These efforts to study the problem can be a way of running down the clock, meaning we suck out all the anger, the outrage, the energy from protests, we direct it into a commission a task force, a study or report, and a year or two later, the outrage, the anger is gone, but it has not been replaced by substantive reform and transformation.
MNW: Joan said something similar,
Steffen: That's almost like waiting out activists approach. And I think that's part of why, you know, like, we wanted to go ahead with this report. We don't think that we need the 21CP external review to know what the problems with HUPD are, we don't think we need like another community task force to determine what the role of HUPD is, in terms of community safety, you know. And even aside from, like, this information already exists, right? First of all, we're writing this report about what student problems are, what student problems have been for decades with HUPD. It’s the same complaint, it’s the same issues. It's just being raised now in a more urgent way because of our context, our like current political context, and you know, the fact that we've kind of come together as organizers or whatever — but these these have been coming up over and over and over again, these problems for decades, is part of what we found. So there's not really a need to get the information together. And if, and if this is about, you know, how to devise community solutions and community alternatives, there are experts who already have knowledge and expertise in those areas. There's a whole wealth of information about transformative and restorative justice practices
OGO: If we think back to our third episode, on the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, when we talked to experts on diversity and D&I reviews in higher education and corporations like Daryl Smith and Frances Frei, they said reviews are important if we can hold leadership at all levels accountable for making real change based on the report. Bond, the 21CP reviewer, said basically the same. But from Hilda, to the students in Donald Barfield’s taskforce in the 1980s, to Amit Paley before us at the Crimson, to “I, Too, Am Harvard,” to HAACC — how do we do that? If students respond to crisis with protest, and Harvard responds to protest with report, and the report slows things down, it’s almost by definition too late to get angry again at the report’s outcomes, or to hold anyone accountable to the report’s recommendations?
Brooks: studies and reports can sometimes delegitimize both the claims of injustice and those who make the claims. Meaning when we say this problem is a matter of both sides. This is a problem in which we all have a stake in responsibility, which is most often true, but that we have an equal share of culpability, which is often not true.
MNW: Right, like it’s kind of ridiculous to suggest the very people hurt by racist policing have equal responsibility when reform efforts fall short. No, it’s the same institution that perpetuates the violence in the first place, that is largely culpable for the solution’s failure, or for failing to even trying to fix the problem. What do we do about that?
Brooks: When we look at, at Harvard, in the context of this national pattern, we have to ask ourselves, not is a taskforce report and audit wrong, per se, but has it been set up and created to bring about, to bring about the good. And one of the ways we can ask that question is not, is there going to be accountability at the end of this commission or task forc —, we have to ask the question, is there accountability as we're doing the study, conducting the task force or the commission? So in other words, does, is the task force, the commission charged with delivering a set of recommendations during a certain timetable, are those recommendations tied to incentives, but also accountability measures? Is the task force synced in time in such a way that the community is not worn out when you come to an end? So for example, let's say freshmen, not freshman, first-years at Harvard College call for the creation of a task force. And the task force takes four-and-a-half to five years to deliver a report. By definition to people who call for the task force or the commission have graduated and are no longer around to hold those who authored the task force and populate the commission responsible and accountable [...] if the audience will report is merely the people who are a source of the problem? That's a problem, right.
OGO: In part, it sounds like we’re too late with this podcast — that we’ve questioned and investigated all these diversity and performance reviews after the fact, but this work needs to happen beforehand. Someone should have been publicly, loudly asking 21CP what “community” means back in June when they were hired, not now.
MNW: But people definitely were asking — like Brooks said, culpability is not equal here in the failure to turn reviews into action. We see, again and again and again, it being impossible to hold either the process and products of the Harvard diversity review accountable: Only one of 15 professors we contacted on the presidential task force of inclusion and belonging being open to an interview, only 7 undergrads being included on that task force, period. Nobody agreed to interview about the Yardfest report. No on-the-record comment from the University on PULSE or the presidential task force, no comment about criticisms of HUPD, nothing on the advisory committees being formed to implement 21CP Solutions except for the opaque and cosmetic Gazette interviews with Harvard administrators. Sometimes we’d ask people who led a review to comment, the reviewers would refer us to harvard public affairs and communications, and harvard public affairs and communications would refer us back to the individual reviewers.
OGO: Alright, but maybe there’s an opportunity to make this time, this specific moment of reckoning with policing at Harvard, different. I mean, 21CP Solutions has outlined a thorough review process and included mechanisms in it for the review to be transparent and accountable throughout. That seems promising, not unlike what Brooks described, not unlike what Smith described in episode 3 — a diversity review, to be effective, must change the central ways and structures of a university, instead of being secondary priorities. It must engage the entire university, and it must be aligned across leadership. And to that end, Harvard is working on making a facilitating committee to lead that reimagining public safety process that 21CP recommends in pillar 1. This is a chance for the University to take racism and policing seriously, and more importantly, a chance for students to hold the review accountable as it happens, instead of just afterward. But I’m hesitant to be optimistic. For starters, Harvard originally said the facilitating committee would start on April 30, but now they’ve said it will get underway in the fall. So more delay, more time to wait out students, more energy students have to expend to make sure this reimagining happens at all. When Brooks said the taskforce needs to be made such that the community is not worn out at the end, that really stood out. Every generation of students has been worn out, especially students of color. From Florence Houn, in 1980
Florence Houn: for me to say something 40 years old that is resonant today shows you the amount of progress that has been made. Because, you know, I was very — when that report came out, I knew I was ready to leave Harvard, and I did not want to improve the lives of people at Harvard. That was not a goal in life, because it was not going to achieve anything concrete.
OGO5.39: To Hilda Jordan, in 2018:
Jordan: What is my ability to follow up on these things when it's not a part of, you know, my — it's not, it's not a part of my coursework, I'm not getting paid to do this, it's emotionally taxing. I have to sort of relive and then do it.
MNW: How are students and activists supposed to engage these reviews? I posed the question to Brooks:
Brooks: But you also want to avoid standing on the sidelines, because when you stand on the sidelines, the process takes place without your input. And those who may be opposed to your advocacy can say, in effect, their complaints aren't legitimate in any way because they don't care to make them. So students, not just at Harvard, all over the country are really caught in a bind. And the bind the students are caught in, meaning they need to be supportive, they need to participate in these processes. But they also have to maintain a critical distance in terms of not unwittingly endorsing things that they shouldn't have to endorse. But the impact on the students is even, is even more profound than that. The impact on students in engaging in consultation is not unlike the ways in which communities are called upon to engage in consultation, meaning we pay consultants, we get your input for free. The consultants are doing this at an analytic and critical distance, at an emotional distance that does not traumatize them does not cause them to be triggered by what they have to recall and recount. When it comes to communities, when it comes to students, they can literally be triggered and traumatized by what they're going through. That's not to say that students with communities are comprised of citizen snowflakes. It's not to say that people aren't resilient and resolute and have a sturdiness of character. It is to say this is tough work, right? Like, you know, I've told the story often of being, having recently graduated from Yale Law School, finishing a clerkship, coming to work in Washington DC years ago. And being stopped by the police, having the police ask for my ID. I reached my eyeglasses, and the officer reaches for his gun. I've had the experience of being profiled many, many times, okay, and being cursed out more than a few occasions. Now, when I talk about that I'm, my endeavor is to inform and to share, and to perhaps enlighten people who want to have a conversation about policing. But when I tell the story, it is not without some kind of psychic cost or emotional tax, it's unpleasant. But you know, what's true for me as a civil rights lawyer who has been in, been in this business for 25 years, I think is more true for a first-year or second-year at Harvard College. But in other words, when you're mistreated, it can be cathartic to tell that story, but it can also be taxing emotionally to tell that story. And we got to acknowledge that. So my point being is, when you participate in these processes, you're literally spending emotional capital. You need to spend it, it's important to spend it, but other people shouldn't shouldn't assume it's free.
MNW: We’ve spent so much of this podcast trying to demystify how the University works, but each of the diversity reviews we’ve looked at arose from the labor of individual students and faculty and staff, of activism and agitation. That labor — not the University’s, top-down, but that of those on the ground — might be the key. We started this podcast asking, how can an institution with so much history have so little memory? But maybe the better question is, how can an institution with so many resources and people and talent, with such a professed dedication to inquiry and research, pay so little notice? And in an institution with so little memory, that seems at times so oblivious, how can — how do — students keep themselves going to make Harvard pay attention?
OGO: We’ve spoken again and again about dedicated leaders and individuals, about positive signs in recent years that Harvard administrators are at least thinking about and making baby steps when it comes to race, racism, diversity, inclusion. But all these mechanisms, the penchant for study and framing of equal culpability and the sprawling bureaucracy and Harvard’s overlapping research, financial, and public image incentives and Harvard’s integrationist approach and the pervasive opacity and student activist graduation timelines and their exhaustion — how much “good” can good will really do?
MNW: Reviews arise from events, student voices and national context and dedicated people trying to make change to the University. Those people’s voices are eventually washed away — or exhausted, or waited out, or superseded, or delegitimized. And the review quickly follows, resigned to the archive for us to dig up years later and subject to yet another review.
MNW: Under Review is a podcast from Fifteen Minutes, the Harvard Crimson’s weekly magazine, hosted by Olivia Oldham and me, Matteo Wong. Our producers are the amazing Zing Gee, Thomas Maisonneuve, Lara Dada, Justin Ye, and Jason Lam, who produced this final episode.
OGO: We are so thankful to Ian Chan for being game to join this project and compose original music, and to Meera Nair for the cover art. Huge thank you to Jamie Bikales, the Crimson’s managing editor, for wisdom and editing throughout. And along the way we’ve had so much support, from Ben Naddaff-Hafrey, Marcus Montague-Mfuni, Rebecca Cadenhead, Josie Abugov, and everyone else at The Crimson.
About Under Review:
How can Harvard, an institution with so much history, have so little memory?
The racial reckonings and Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country this past summer brought attention to a trend in how Harvard seems to deal with student activism and concerns surrounding race, racism, and diversity: to commission a diversity review. These committees and reports long predate this summer, and reading them it can seem, at times, like some things have not changed at the University — in race relations, Harvard’s review process, or the findings and recommendations. What can these diversity reviews accomplish, and what can’t they?
“Under Review” is a podcast from The Harvard Crimson, hosted by Matteo Wong and Olivia Oldham, chairs of The Crimson’s weekly magazine, Fifteen Minutes. Each week, they will explore controversies and diversity reviews stretching across 40 years of Harvard history, speaking to dozens of students, activists, experts, and more, to try and understand how the Harvard diversity review works — or doesn’t.
“Under Review” is produced by Zing Gee, Thomas Maisonneuve, Lara F. Dada, Justin Y. Ye, and Jason D. Lam. Music by Ian Chan. Art by Meera S. Nair.