Education

Black Students Held at Gunpoint by Harvard Police After False 911 Call

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Four Black students at Harvard University were forced out of their dorm rooms and held at gunpoint by campus police, according to a university newspaper.

On Monday (April 3), Jarah K. Cotton, Jazmin N. Dunlap, David G. Madzivanyika, and Alexandra C. René, seniors at Harvard, were woken up by Harvard campus police officers banging on their door after the department received a false emergency call, per the Harvard Crimson.

Officers came in with guns and ordered the students to freeze and “put your hands where I can see them,” Madzivanyika told The Boston Globe.

“I was just thinking, ‘Please, Lord, not today,’” Madzivanyika said. “It’s a scary time for anybody to have a gun pointed at them, especially on a college campus.”

According to René, the officers didn’t initially inform the students why they were in the dorm.

“From what I know about how harmful the police can be, it was in my best interest to listen to them,” René said. “So I did.”

After officers searched their rooms for roughly 20 minutes, they explained that campus police were responding to a call falsely reporting that two women in their dorm suite at the Leverett House would be killed.

“I personally did not know that the Harvard University Police Department could actually enter our rooms with that much force,” Dunlap said.

“Just the fact that call can be made … that’s unsettling. And then the response, too, is also unsettling,” Madzivanyika added. “I appreciate the police trying to do their job that they’re doing. But definitely, more training is required.”

Cotton told the Crimson that being Black heightened the severity of the incident.

“We were all extremely scared, particularly because my roommates and I are Black students who have been bombarded our whole lives with stories and images portraying how situations such as this had ended up terribly,” Cotton said. “We felt our lives were in danger. We are traumatized.”

“It was very frightening,” she continued. “I felt like a criminal.”

In an email sent on Monday, Harvard staffers informed students of the raid.

“We all process activities like this morning’s differently,” wrote Leverett House Interim Resident Dean John Nowak and Faculty Deans Daniel G. Deschler and Eileen E. Reynolds. “Please check in with yourself and on each other and let us know if you have any concerns for yourself or your fellow community members.”

The deans also offered counseling and mental health resources. Later that evening, they hosted a gathering to discuss the incident.

“It at least gave students who had become privy to the situation, or who had heard it, the opportunity to hear what actually happened,” Cotton said.

However, the Harvard senior was disappointed in the lack of a universitywide response.

“Being accosted in your place of residence warrants a universitywide response, warrants the president’s attention, warrants the dean of students’ attention, warrants an email, at the very least,” Cotton said.

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