Cambridge, MA – Harvard University students are so intimidated by the presence of armed cops and patrol vehicles that the university has banned officers from eating in some dining halls and is closing down a substation located in a dormitory.
“The decision to close the Mather House substation was made last week in response to concerns raised by Mather House staff and students as well as the amount of use of the substation by officers and community members,” Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) spokesman Steven Catalano said in a statement, according to The Harvard Crimson.
The facility located in Mather House is one of four substations on campus, but it is the only one located in a residence hall.
Students complained to the university that they didn’t feel safe having a police station in their dormitory, The Harvard Crimson reported.
“I am well aware that the police are not there to keep me actively safe,” student Faith Woods explained. “Having a police car sitting outside of Mather every night — which it does — doesn’t bring me any sense of safety.”
“Instead, it implies that we’re being watched and policed, which is not a pleasant feeling,” Woods added.
Another student pointed out that the HUPD substation in Mather House is very small and said it served no purpose other than to elicit fear from residents, The Harvard Crimson reported.
“The real effect that the presence of the HUPD substation has on the Mather community is simply a violent, visual intimidation tactic that students are forced to see every time they enter the house,” Eleanor Taylor said.
Taylor said she also complained to the Harvard deans about armed, uniformed Harvard police eating with students in the dining halls during the 2019-2020 academic year, The Harvard Crimson reported.
Faculty deans said that when the campus re-opened in the fall of 2021, there was a new policy in place that banned armed police officers from eating in the upperclassmen’s dining halls.
Taylor called the ban on armed officers in the dining halls “forward progress” but criticized the lack of police reform and transparency in the department’s decision-making process, The Harvard Crimson reported.
Amala Mahadevan and L. “Maha” Mahadevan, Mather House’s faculty deans, told The Harvard Crimson they contacted HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay in fall 2021 with concerns about the dormitory-based substation as soon as he became police chief.
The police department has said that the closure of the Mather House substation will not affect security on campus, The Harvard Crimson reported.
“The closure will not impact the Department’s ability to respond to calls from the community in an effective and timely manner,” Catalano said.
The HUPD website said that substations were part of a “community-oriented problem solving” effort with a goal of building trust between police and the university community by increasing interaction and communication, The Harvard Crimson reported.
But an outside review of the police department in 2020 determined that many students and faculty found HUPD’s approach to “community policing” was just “superficial and perfunctory.”
One of the recommendation from the report that has since been implemented was an advisory board composed of Harvard affiliates, The Harvard Crimson reported.
Kai D. DeJesus, a resident of Mather House, called the closure of the police substation a “really good first step” but said more needed to be done to address student concerns.
“It’s really important that we keep these violent institutions outside of residences,” DeJesus said. “Ultimately, HUPD remains the police force that disproportionately targets Black and Brown people here on campus and in Cambridge.”
He called for the university to do away with its police department entirely, The Harvard Crimson reported.
“For real justice to exist on this campus, HUPD must be abolished,” DeJesus said.