Brief summary of the e-mails

January 4, 2009

I have arranged, in chronological order on the left margin of this blog (under the “PAGES” heading), copies of the e-mails which were exchanged within the 1L section during April, 2007, regarding an anonymous e-mail sent to all section members on April 6.  To avoid unnecessary invasions of privacy, I have omitted the phone numbers and addresses which appeared in some of the e-mails.

As best as I have been able to determine, the e-mail exchange ended abruptly, as soon as the Law School administrators discovered that the author of the anonymous e-mail was one of the four people who had complained that the e-mail was “hate speech” and “racist” — in other words, that the whole thing was a race hoax meant to stir up controversy and calls for institutional reform.  I am aware of no e-mails addressing the hoax itself, nor of any public punishment or even identification of the hoaxer.  If any reader has any further e-mails pertinent to this matter, please forward them to me at thrillsthrillington@gmail.com.

Here is a brief summary of the e-mails:

adora_asonye3laura_dellatorre4naomi_reed2sarah_rodriguez1

The “Chamillionaire Four”

April 13:  Four members of Section 1 of the Harvard Law School Class of 2009 wrote a letter to Dean Elena Kagan complaining of a “hate speech” incident which they allege occurred on April 6 in Criminal Law class.  Specifically, they complained that during a discussion of issues regarding “racial profiling” by police, a classmate referenced a song by African-American rapper Chamillionaire which, they alleged, portrayed African-American males in a false and racist light.

The four students expressed their “anger and disappointment at the profileration of Internet-based hate speech at Harvard Law School,” and complained that students critical of this problem are “regularly silenced:  professors and students are unprepared or unwilling to listen or engage.”  In light of “what has become an increasingly intolerant culture at Harvard Law School,” these students urged that the law school administration make a variety of changes, for example:  (1) “Diversify the faculty by hiring more people of color, women, and gays and lesbians”; (2) “Circulate a statement to all students defining hate speech and making clear that the law school prohibits the circulation of such speech through its email lists”; (3) “Establish a code of ethics for classroom discussion and email exchange”; and (4) “Require each student to sign an Affirmation of Values.”  The four students e-mailed this letter to the other 75 students in their section and urged them to add their names to the letter.  See here.

For brevity, these four students will be referred to as the “Chamillionaire  Four.”  The four students collectively illustrated the diversity of Harvard Law School, comprising:  (1) an African-American woman, Adora Asonye; (2) a Latino woman, Laura Dellatorre; (3) a white woman, Naomi Reed; and (4) an African-American/Latino male transexual, Sarah Rodriguez (see here).

michelle_kuo2

April 13:  Another student in Section 1, Michelle Kuo, e-mailed her thoughts about the letter to Dean Kagan.  She agreed that it correctly spotlighted “the lack of institutional space for meaningful dialogue” at Harvard Law School:  “no spaces have been created for us to have meaningful dialogue and to connect with one another,” in contrast to the practice at Yale Law School.  She also suggested that Harvard Law School was only giving lip service to “diversity” concerns:  “Is anybody else confused by the fact that diversity is used as a recruiting tool — remember those brochures we got with all the happy black, yellow, and white people sitting together? — but that we don’t hear about diversity once we get here?”  She also decried the “laziness” of students (including herself) on such issues, which she opined “is a crime.”   She urged the need to create institutional space in which to address such issues because:  “In the ‘real world,’ we must actually deal with the reality of real people.”  See here.

adora_asonye4

April 13:  One of the “Chamillionaire Four,” Adora Asonye, e-mailed to “rebut the presumption that those who speak out against racism and/or sexism are liberal,” stating:  “I do not align myself specifically with either side ideologically and would not like to be type casted as a result.”  She also clarified the nature of her objection to the April 6 “anonymous email poking fun at the fact that Chamillionaire, despite the fact that rappers in the song admit to comitting crime, contends that the police stop him because they are ‘hatin'” and not for probable cause.”  She objected that this was an inappropriate way “to undermine the statements of individuals in class . . . .”  In particular, she objected:  “The anonymous emailer was implored to stay after class to engage in discussion about it; after class, the dust settled, and no one remained.”  She also defended the claim in the letter to the Dean that what occurred was “hate speech,” concluding:  “The email coupled with the class discussion can be characterized as hate speech as it is defined.”  See here.

timaru2April 14: Another student in Section 1, Octavian Timaru, e-mailed to object that “I just don’t think it is right to generalize an offensive anonymous spam mail . . . to a section and school wide problem.”  He expressed his disappointment “that members of our community feel that HLS has an ‘alienating’ or ‘intolerant’ culture, or that our section has “regularly silenced” any of its members.”  He closed:  “I humbly suggest that instead of signing petitions for broad speech codes and extensive curriculum changes, we get together as a section after class . . . to resolve any differences we think exist in the open and friendly way we’ve discussed issues all  year long.”  See here.

sushma_gandhi1

April 14:  Another student in Section 1, Sushma (“Shonu”) Gandhi, e-mailed to opine that the letter to Dean Kagan had been “miscast as an attack on students in  Section 1 or an attempt to stifle dialogue within it.  Actually, it is a letter asking for institutional modifications to promote a more complete and thorough legal education, which I think would result in better, more educated, open and honest dialogue in classroom settings.”  See here.

naomi_reed3

April 14:  Another of the “Chamillionaire Four,” Naomi Reed, e-mailed to say that to her the letter to Dean Kagan “is about dialogue, about creating the institutional spaces for dialogue to happen,” and she encouraged other members of the section to write, call, or visit her in order “to begin that dialogue right now, to provide one way for anyone who feels silenced to be heard.”  See here.

michelle_kuo3April 14:  Section 1 student Michelle Kuo wrote to say:  “I really hope people will take up Naomi’s invitation,” and to indicate “I will definitely sign onto a revised letter that sticks to the agenda of institutional change for substantive dialogue but alters the primacy given to the anonymous email.”  She summarized a variety of institutional changes which, in her view, could help “satiate our hunger for something real and genuine . . . .”  She argued that “the value of advocating institutional change that creates substantive dialogue is reason enough to sign on” to a revised version of the letter.  See here.

kierkegaard April 14:  Another member of Section 1, writing under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, e-mailed to highlight an aspect of the letter to Dean Kagan “that bothers me more than the dilution of the idea of what counts as ‘hate speech’ or what is ‘racist’ or whether we need some kind of systemic change here at the Law School”:  “I am concerned with our ready denunciation of the author’s choice of anonymity.”  After a brief summary of the historic importance of pseudonymously authored works, Climacus observed:  “there is nothing wrong with anonymity qua anonymity; in fact it is a valuable tool for expressing unpopular views, raising awareness, and generating change.”

Climacus continued:  “I think it is important to see that the anonymity is not the problem. There are of course times where we might feel that anonymity is unfair. However, this is not a personal, slanderous attack on an individual, and this is also nothing like autoadmit where, due to our great modern technology, this personal attack is preserved and, through google, made searchable and available to employers. Rather, this e-mail was circulated among a group of 80 students, 80 students I believe are enlightened enough to trade in ideas and not in insults.  . . .  All that can be gained from knowing who the sender is is that we can point at the person and not at the idea. I see no value in this . . . .”

He concluded: “So I guess this is is my try at creating dialogue. The question I ask is why do we care that this person is anonymous? Is it because we feel that attacks on the letter’s content must be supplemented by attacks on the writer’s person? Or is it so we can actually ask that person not to express their views anymore? I write anonymously not because I feel the need to hide who I am, but because I feel the need to support a fellow classmate’s choice of expression.”  See here.

adora_asonye5April 14Adora Asonye of the “Chamillionaire Four” wrote to suggest that section members e-mailing on this subject need not copy their professors on future e-mails.  See here.

martha_minow3phil_heymann3catherine_sharkey3 April 15:  Three Section 1 professors wrote to suggest that section members meet with them “outside of class for a fuller discussion of what may be on any of your minds.”  See here.

martha_minow5April 16: Professor Martha Minow sent a followup e-mail suggesting a meeting the following day.  See here.

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2 Responses to “Brief summary of the e-mails”

  1. Liberal Dude Says:

    Look, I don’t condone this sort of hoax, but it’s unfair to suggest (as is done on some sites you link to) that hoaxes are somehow the exclusive province of liberals who use them to push their race agenda. They’re not — e.g., witness the recent hoax by a conservative Princeton student:

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071231/blumenthal

  2. Ellen Cosgrove Says:

    I have seen your blog posting regarding an alleged hoax and sent the email below on September 30, 3009. Since the site was not updated, I am now sending this as a comment to your post.

    I am writing for two reasons.

    First, to correct the misinformation contained in your blog posting. I was Dean of Students at Harvard Law School at the time of this incident. I met with a number of members of the section when this incident occurred. I also worked with our Information Technology Department to determine the source of the email in question. Once the student was identified, I met with the student. The student acknowledged sending the email and was quite apologetic. The student and I agreed that I would forward a follow-up email from the student to the section. That second email attempted to clarify the intent behind the initial one and to apologize for offending members of the section. Once the second email was sent, the discussion within the section died down.

    I want to be completely clear that none of the students mentioned in your blog posting is the author of the initial email. There was no hoax.

    Second, I also want to caution you that the student photos you have posted have been copied from the Harvard student directory. They are the property of the President & Fellows of Harvard College. Posting them on a blog without permission is unauthorized use.

    Sincerely,

    Ellen M. Cosgrove
    Dean of Students
    Harvard Law School


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