Harvard officials are now saying that LGBT-themed books in a university library were drenched with urine not as the result of a hate crime, but because of an employee accident. Obviously, questions remain.
Yesterday, the Crimson reported that the destruction of 36 books in Lamont Library was being investigated as a "bias crime." But last night, the student paper said that in fact a library staff member had spilled a bottle of urine that had been left on the shelves, unintentionally defacing the books. The same employee apparently reported the spill. This new story is odd to say the least — if the employee came, um, clean right away, why was the incident ever investigated as a hate crime? Marco Chan of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair adds some more questions: "Why was there a bottle of urine on the shelf? Why did it take two weeks for library or HUPD to figure out that this was just an accident? Did someone suddenly come forward?"
Nobody's answering these questions — yet — but Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds released a statement saying, in part, "This is an important moment to reiterate our shared values and to note that Harvard College mandates that everyone show respect to all members of our community. I hope you will join me in espousing and practicing these shared principles." The statement doesn't appear to specifically mention the needs of the Harvard LGBT community, and her response to the whole event has left some students dissatisfied. One wrote to us with this criticism:
Many queer students like myself have been disappointed with the institution's response to this incident, and earlier LGBT hate crimes. The administration handles incidents with sexism and racism in a prompt and forthcoming manner, but LGBT students found out about this incident, not from the dean, but from their newspaper, weeks after the incident occurred. This is actually the 3rd incident this semester directed towards LGBT students that many students feel has not been addressed properly.
Furthermore, if it were racism or sexism, I feel like the administration would call it by its true name. In The Crimson article, Dean Hammonds calls this an "act of vandalism" that "appears to be motivated by hate or bias". Is the word homophobia really that hard to use? What exactly will it take for Dean Hammonds to say anything explicitly about homophobia being wrong, about homophobia being a problem, about wanting LGBT students to feel safe on campus? Shouldn't this be a basic part of any institutional response to such an incident?
He added that the incident comes at a time when the university is evaluating its LGBT resources — Hammonds created a working group to discuss these resources and other aspects of LGBT student life in the wake of this fall's suicides by LGBT teens. Maybe that working group can come up with some more answers about the library incident, or at least a more targeted response to it. Meanwhile, there's good news: the books will be replaced.
Damaged LGBT Books In Lamont Not Result Of Hate Crime, Dean Says [Harvard Crimson]