The Problem with Probation

{image id=1336269 size=large byline=true caption="Harvard Radio Broadcasting — the student radio station commonly known as WHRB — invited rapper Lil Pump to their office earlier this month."}

Probation continues to be one of Harvard’s most obscure administrative procedures. Earlier this month, Harvard Radio Broadcasting — the student radio station commonly known as WHRB — experienced first-hand this ongoing lack of clarity. After inviting rapper Lil Pump — a self-proclaimed “Harverd Dropout” — to speak at the station’s office in Pennypacker Hall in February, a College administrator threatened to place WHRB on “administrative probation,” but the group reportedly never received official confirmation of being placed on probation. Despite the threat, as it stands, WHRB retains its recognized status and all privileges such status entails.

Social spaces that promote and cultivate a culture of inclusivity on this campus are essential to student life. To that end, we are supportive of WHRB, as inviting Lil Pump to campus is exactly the type of event that enriches the cultural, social, and organizational experiences students are able to have during their time at Harvard. Even so, to the extent that WHRB violated policies for student organizations, it was appropriate for the College to issue a warning.

WHRB and the College’s interactions on this matter represent an instance of the disciplinary procedure functioning as intended. The station was notified of policy violations without suffering any severe consequences associated with probation.

However, that is not to say the procedures functioned perfectly. The warning could have been delivered in a way that fostered less uncertainty around the group’s status. The College must work to develop and publicize a better institutionalized process for issuing warnings for violations that do not merit probation but are nonetheless consistent with the rules governing the conduct of student organizations.


The College’s policies mention probation as a punishment for violations and the possibility of warnings of potential future probation for less severe infractions. This distinction is admirable in its understanding of the fact that not all policy infractions are created equal. But that same understanding cries out for a better system to help ensure that offending organizations are treated fairly and in transparent fashion.

The College should work to formalize the warning process as a pre-probationary punishment or a notification of infractions so incidents in the future do not provoke uncertainty about the status of organizations like WHRB. Despite the lack of clarity in the rules, in this specific case we commend both WHRB and the College for appearing to resolve it in a relatively timely manner and in a way that didn’t prolong uncertainty about the radio station’s status. In the future, we continue to hope that the College will better clarify its standards for probation and other less severe punitive measures.

Of course, when we think of probation, we cannot help also thinking of Harvard College Faith and Action, which was placed on “administrative probation” last year for pressuring a student to step down from her leadership role due to her choice to date another woman. HCFA remains the only College organization to receive the sanction of “administrative probation.” Clearly, the respective actions of WHRB and HCFA are not at all comparable: WHRB continues to demonstrate inclusivity and positive extracurricular leadership on campus. Yet the College’s treatment of HCFA is a prime example of how opaque the College has been with its disciplinary policies for recognized student organizations.

Ultimately, if probation and pre-probation warnings are tools the College is using to discipline organizations, the practical effects of probation and other disciplinary measures should be made clear to students involved in these organizations.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.