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House Tutors Hold ‘Listening Sessions’ in Response to Sullivan’s Decision to Represent Weinstein

​​​​​​{image id=1235432 size=large byline=TRUE caption="Winthrop Faculty Dean and Law School Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., speaks at a diploma ceremony in 2010."}

Tutors in six undergraduate houses hosted discussion sessions in response to the announcement that Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., would represent Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan sexual abuse case.

Since the news of Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein first broke, Lowell House, Currier House, Eliot House, Dunster House, Mather House, and Leverett House tutors have held listening sessions for students to air their concerns about Sullivan. At the request of those tutors, some faculty deans, house staff, and representatives from the Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response have also attended the events.

OSAPR also posted a message to its website encouraging concerned students to contact their staff, or to utilize confidential University resources like Counseling and Mental Health Services and the Harvard Chaplains, as well as private resources like the Title IX Office.

The New York Post first reported Sullivan’s decision to join Weinstein’s legal team on Jan. 23. Weinstein faces allegations of sexual assault from two women in the Manhattan case that stem from accusations that he raped one woman and forcibly performed oral sex on another.

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Two days after the Post’s report, Sullivan sent an email to Winthrop residents addressing students’ concerns over his decision to represent the Hollywood producer. He wrote that defense lawyers have a duty to represent “unpopular” defendants.

On Jan. 27, Sullivan criticized Harvard’s handling of sexual harassment claims leveled against Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., in a RealClearInvestigations article that referred to him as Fryer’s lawyer. Sullivan called Harvard’s investigations into Title IX complaints against Fryer “deeply flawed and deeply unfair.”

The Office for Dispute Resolution, which conducts formal Title IX investigations, has opened three inquiries into Fryer based on complaints brought by former female employees who say he harassed them while they worked at the Education Innovation Laboratory, the research group he founded in 2008. One of the investigations is ongoing.

A week after Sullivan publicly alleged ODR’s investigations into Fryer were unfair, he sent another missive — this time laying out “processes” that he and Stephanie R. Robinson, his wife and fellow Winthrop faculty dean, decided to implement going forward. Included in those processes was the announcement of Resident Dean Linda D.M. Chavers as the “point person” for sexual assault issues in the house.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said Sullivan’s response to student concerns about his decision to represent Weinstein has been “insufficient” in an interview Monday. About 50 students held a protest outside Massachusetts Hall the same day to call on administrators to remove Sullivan from his faculty dean post. Almost 200 students had signed a petition to remove him as of Wednesday night.

Over the past two weeks since Sullivan’s announcement, tutors in the houses have held sessions for residents, starting with Lowell on Jan. 31. Most recently, Mather and Leverett held a joint session Wednesday evening.

Lowell residents praised Faculty Deans Diana L. Eck and Dorothy A. Austin for organizing a discussion so quickly. Sarah E. June ’14 — a resident tutor in Lowell House — said the general feeling at the session was that it is “contradictory” for Sullivan to both represent Weinstein and serve as faculty dean, at least “as it is understood in Lowell House.”

“I believe the faculty deans as that description is described, mentions that faculty deans set the tone of the house, and they very much do so,” June said. “[Eck and Austin] really were adamant and there was no pushback that we have a listening session and try to understand what students are thinking.”

Lowell resident Remedy H. Ryan ’21 said she understood defense lawyers’ duties, but thought Sullivan’s decision was incompatible with his role as a faculty dean.

“I think it’s important that everyone has a defense attorney,” she said. “That was something that I grappled with, but a lot of people could have defended Weinstein.”

Eliot tutor Marianne F. Potvin wrote in an email that Consent Advocacy and Relationship Education tutors — a group that works with OSAPR to serve as a resource within the houses — discussed over an internal email list the possibility of holding sessions to give students space to talk about Sullivan and Weinstein.

“My personal impression was that there was consensus among CARE tutors that the topic was important, and that students had had many reactions and questions that had yet to be adequately addressed,” she wrote.

Potvin said that Eliot students discussed concerns about Winthrop undergraduates, the potential reaction of freshmen being assigned to Winthrop on Housing Day, and “the apparent absence of reaction from College administrators” at the session, which the house held on Feb. 6.

Allison J. Piper ’20, who attended the Dunster session Tuesday night, wrote in an email she is “grateful” the house provided space for students to share their concerns.

“I'm rather surprised that many students aren't considering this Dean Sullivan thing a big deal. I went to the Dunster listening session partly to find support and talk about my reaction to this and partly to find other students who are similarly outraged,” Piper wrote. “As I left, I felt very supported. I'm grateful that my house gives me a space to express my frustrations and articulate my concerns.”

Correction: Feb. 20, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly described the Title IX Office as a confidential resource. In fact, Title IX coordinators serve as a private resource since they report on a need to know basis.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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