A week after a protest of the Harvard University Police Department, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Feb. 18 interview that police presence at campus events is intended to ensure protesters’ safety.
Khurana said he believes activism is an important part of “democratic life” on campus and that Harvard police’s responsibility is to ensure “safe” and “peaceful” protests.
“The role of police and campus authorities from my observation point has been essentially be there to protect the community and to protect the protesters just as much as it is also to ensure just non-disruption of everyday activities of the institution,” he said.
He also cited the Department’s focus on implementing “community policing” by engaging Harvard affiliates in their work.
“That philosophy depends on healthy relationships between the police force and the community that is protecting,” Khurana said. “Each of us plays a role in building those healthy relationships. And I think it's particularly important to ensure that there's lots of communication going back and forth in those areas.”
HUPD has come under fire this semester for its allegedly discriminatory conduct and culture after The Crimson published an investigation that identified patterns of racism and sexism in the police force spanning nearly three decades. In lawsuits, discrimination complaints, and interviews, current and former officers said the department’s culture is replete with alleged favoritism and retaliation.
Earlier this month, the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign and the Harvard Ethnic Studies Coalition organized a rally calling for the resignation of Harvard University Police Department Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley.
At the rally, protesters cited alleged harassment they have experienced in their interactions with Harvard police officers and called for Riley’s removal. Some held signs that read “Abolish HUPD, End Discrimination,” “White Supremacy Kills. We Will Defend Ourselves,” and “Policing is Violent.”
Protesters accused HUPD and the Cambridge Police Department of discriminating against students of color and claimed that both departments have increased their presence on campus to monitor student activists. They said they have observed an increase in plainclothes HUPD officers monitoring events — particularly those organized by students of color — and noticed CPD officers being “called in at alarming rates.”
After the protest, HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an email that the department treats all University affiliates equally.
“The Harvard University Police Department is committed to providing a safe and secure campus through quality policing and treats all persons with dignity and respect,” he wrote.
In November, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay commissioned a report to investigate an Oct. 24 interaction between Harvard police and students of color attempting to install a class art exhibition in the Harvard Yard. During the incident, a HUPD officer questioned the students and asked to see their IDs. The report ultimately concluded that the officer did not act with “malicious intent.”
Khurana said he both supports HUPD’s presence at rallies and students’ right to protest.
“Diverse perspectives and points of view are critical,” he said. “And my role as Dean is to ensure that we keep a space that allows for those diverse perspectives and points of view.”
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.