An Open Letter to Harvard


Unapologetic and refusing to remain silent.

This weekend, current Harvard College students and recent alumni received racially charged e-mail death threats from an unknown sender who has continued to contact individuals over the past few days. While recipients of the threats ranged in identity and background, a disproportionate number of these e-mails targeted Asian and Asian American women across years, student groups, and ethnic backgrounds.
Signed off with “I promise you, slit-eyes,” the email invokes racist language clearly and outrageously targeted towards Asian Americans.
As an Asian-American community, we are deeply affected by this act of hate that unnerved many of our closest friends, community members, and family members.
Our discomfort is heightened in learning that this act was not an isolated incident but the result of many months of data mining: For many recipients of the death threats, this sender has sent multiple spam e-mails, Facebook requests and messages, and LinkedIn requests. Moreover, this sender has taken on the persona of several members of our community, sending out links of personal social media sites to strangers.
Despite the virulent racism and violence contained in these messages, however, we have been disappointed in the official response to this incident. In the four emails sent by HUPD Public Information Officer Stephen Catalano, none mentioned the anti-Asian sentiment of the emails or that they had primarily been sent to Asian and Asian American women. In fact, the administration edited an email from the organizers of Perspectives, the pan-Asian American and Pacific Islander town hall that was postponed due to the threats. In forwarding the message to the Harvard community, the administration purposefully cut out the organizers’ reference to the specifically racist and misogynist nature of the emails.
By not including this essential information, HUPD and the university minimized our community’s horror and confusion at receiving these messages, and put Asian and Asian American students in danger by withholding the knowledge that the threat had been directed at them.
We also reject the simplistic treatment of this incident as something that can be taken back, as suggested by the sender of the email to the Crimson, or something that does not represent a “credible threat,” as Officer Catalano expressed in yesterday’s communication to the Harvard community.
Make no mistake. Sending hate speech and death threats to members of our community was an act of violence in and of itself. It was an act of terror meant to make certain students, marked by their race and gender, fearful of their lives when they should be free to learn and grow in this environment equal to any one of their peers. And, it makes painfully obviously that Harvard is not an institution that erases barriers of gender, race, and other aspects of identity; rather, it is a place where Asian and Asian-American women still struggle for ownership in the classroom, in social spaces, walking down the street, their careers, and basically all facets of life.
We call on the Harvard University Police Department and the Harvard administration to continue its work with those affected to ensure the person responsible for these acts of threatening hate speech is brought to justice. Even today, people were still receiving emails from this individual, which is completely unacceptable.
HUPD and the University should be providing clear and consistent communications about new findings to the email recipients, recipients’ family members, and members of the Asian American community. Finding out recent developments through the media, which has historically misquoted and misrepresented members our community, is troubling since we do not know what information to trust.
We call on the Office of Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution (ODR) to address these acts of violence against Asian-American women and to investigate how to preserve our online security while continuing to listen to student and survivor feedback on the new sexual assault policy. For an office supposedly established to address sexual and gender-based harassment, ODR has been stunningly quiet about this obvious incident of gender-based violence.
We call on the university at large to develop clear and consistent bias reporting mechanisms for all those in the Harvard community who face discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, and ability status, which includes physical and mental health. A score of other schools–Loyola, Georgetown, Washington University, Cornell, and more–already have systems for reporting micro- and macro- aggressions students face inside and outside the classroom. Harvard has no such system in place. As members of a concerned community, we demand an accessible and robust system which will enable underrepresented minorities to challenge the discrimination we face on Harvard’s campus. Even if Harvard’s administration would prefer to avoid addressing systems of oppression as they affect student life, we as people of color cannot ignore this reality in our daily lives.
This difficult time for our community reminds us of the need to reach out those around us. At the same time, it inspires us to work on behalf of our community and to find strength in one another.
We, as Asian Americans, refuse to apologize for who we are or for our existence.
We are unapologetic.
We are unapologetic for being afraid, for being angry, for feeling resentful, for being at Harvard, and most of all – for demanding better.

In Support and Solidarity,

Concerned members of the Harvard Asian-American community