The city of Cambridge responded by spending nearly $14,000 on a series of five remedial workshops – but Harvard did not participate, and it remains unclear that the institution has done anything to prevent another collision over race and class.
On July 14, 2018, Theresa Lund, executive director of Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, took issue with the noise created by a child playing outside her apartment in Cambridgeport while her own children were napping. Lund was captured on video confronting the child’s young mother, Alyson Laliberte, and asking if Laliberte lived in one of the complex’s affordable units. At a time numerous white people had been captured on video nationwide being insensitive to issues of race and class, the incident created a social media firestorm and provided a rare glimpse into the university’s commitment to inclusiveness.
Lund was placed on leave, and the initiative’s director, Michael VanRooyen, pledged to address such bias with additional staff training. One year later, a Harvard spokeswoman said VanRooyen wasn’t available to provide details about what, if any, training was provided to staff members. VanRooyen is also chairman of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, according to his online profile.
Immediately after the incident, Lund wrote that she loved her community and was “committed to engaging in dialogue and actions about how to make it more welcoming and pleasant for all of us to live in together.” She’s now not listed on the Humanitarian Initiative’s website director. VanRooyen had tweeted in defense of Lund that the incident did “not represent who she is,” then deleted the tweet, Harvard Crimson staffer Caroline S. Engelmayer wrote.
In October, Mayor Marc McGovern and city councillor Sumbul Siddiqui announced plans for “Cambridge Digs DEEP” forums with a plan to address “equity, power, privilege, diversity, inclusion and race.” In a news release, McGovern said the events represented a commitment to social justice: “We know that despite our reputation as a progressive city, Cambridge is not immune to issues of race and class.”
But McGovern also told The Harvard Crimson that the inclusion of university officials in such events was important so they could educate their employees who are in different financial situations than their neighbors.
Even at the time, Engelmayer wrote in the Crimson, Harvard didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.