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Holding red and black posters reading “Reclaim Winthrop” and “#MeToo,” three student groups staged a sit-in in the Winthrop House dining hall Friday amid controversy surrounding Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.’s decision to represent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Our Harvard Can Do Better — an anti-sexual assault advocacy organization — read a list of demands at the event, including calling on the College to publicize the results of a climate review of Winthrop House and to create a system to hold faculty deans accountable. They also demanded that Sullivan apologize to house affiliates and delegate his ceremonial duties during Commencement to “an alternate,” and called for an “end to intimidation tactics.”
In an interview Sunday, Our Harvard Can Do Better member Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19 said the groups have demanded that the administration complete the review and announce what action it would take by May 29.
Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment. College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the students’ demands.
The Association of Black Harvard Women and Student Labor Action Movement also sponsored the event. Our Harvard Can Do Better member Remedy H. Ryan ’21 wrote in a text that 178 undergraduates put their names on a sign-in sheet the organization distributed. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana also attended part of the event.
Since Sullivan announced his decision to represent Weinstein in late January, students have spoken out at protests and written posts calling for him to step down as faculty dean — arguing that his representation of Weinstein is inconsistent with his role as the dean of an undergraduate house.
The College announced in February that former Dean of Freshman Thomas A. Dingman ’67 would conduct a climate review of Winthrop as a result of student concerns over Sullivan’s decision. As part of the review, administrators circulated a survey among Winthrop undergraduates, asking students to rate the house on a variety of metrics like homophobia, elitism, and friendliness.
The controversy in Winthrop House escalated in April when Danu A.K. Mudannayake ’20 — a Crimson design editor and activist who has led calls for Sullivan to step down as faculty dean — and Winthrop tutor Carl L. Miller filed conflicting police reports against each other after a confrontation in the house dining hall.
Following the incident, Miller and his wife, Winthrop tutor Valencia Miller, sued Eliot Faculty Dean Gail A. O’Keefe for defamation in part because O’Keefe sent an email to Eliot residents defending Mudannayake and calling the Millers’ conduct “unprofessional.”
The Millers’ lawyer, George J. Leontire, said he believes the student protesters have acted inappropriately towards his clients.
“They fully want the right to be able to disparage the Millers yet cry foul when Mr. Miller responds,” he said. “If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen. If you're going to start harassing someone don't expect a response not to be forthcoming.”
Several students gave speeches at the event including Winthrop student Hakeem O. I. Angulu ’20; Phoebe H. Suh ’22, a freshman placed into Winthrop who has called for Sullivan to step down; and ABHW political action chair Araoluwa P. Omotowa ’22.
Angulu said at the event that he believes Sullivan should step down both because of the impact of his decision to represent Weinstein and the way he has responded to student criticism.
“Let me be clear, the point about Harvey Weinstein deserving due process is a straw man argument and is a point that protesters have never disputed,” Angulu said. “The more specific and relevant point that we're trying to make is that Dean Sullivan does not have to provide the representation, and by providing, he is compromising his ability to serve survivors and his house.”
Omotowa said in an interview Sunday that ABHW’s board decided to co-sponsor the event because of the way Sullivan’s representation has affected their members. The organization previously sent a letter in February calling on Sullivan to resign from his post as faculty dean.
“Black women on this campus, especially queer minorities — which ABHW also distinctly cares about — are negatively impacted by emboldening rape culture on this campus. That’s why we felt personally, and as an organization, compelled to be on the forefront of this, calling Sullivan out for his actions,” Omotowa said.
She added that she hopes students and administrators will discuss both faculty deans’ roles within the Harvard residential system and the impact of rape culture at the College.
“I think that [next steps are] going to incorporate a lot more diverse training of faculty and administrators in terms of just understanding what rape culture is, how that affects students, how that inhibits our ability to learn, and also just occupies this campus in general,” she said.
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