Seven Harvard University students who were expelled in 1920 on suspicion of being gay will be remembered in a campus protest today outside Lady Gaga’s presentation of the Born This Way Foundation.
A group of Harvard students and faculty, called “Their Day in the Yard,” is asking for the college to grant degrees to the students expelled more than nine decades ago. They’re also asking the oldest and richest U.S. college to formally abolish a “secret court” that led a search for gays at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and recommended the expulsions.
“It’s time to ensure these seven students receive justice, and are honored officially by the university with posthumous degrees,” Kaia Stern, a visiting faculty member at Harvard Divinity School who supports the protest, said in a statement.
Oprah Winfrey, spiritual health writer Deepak Chopra and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are scheduled to appear at Harvard for the unveiling of Lady Gaga’s foundation. The singer is supporting efforts to address issues of “self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development through research, education and advocacy.”
Stern said she hoped the foundation will join in asking for recognition and degrees for the expelled students.
“We’re seeing them as an ally for justice for these students,” she said.
Harvard doesn’t award posthumous degrees except in rare cases when a student dies after completing the required coursework and before graduation, John Longbrake, a spokesman for the university, said yesterday in an e-mail.
The 1920 court began hunting for homosexuals after anonymous reports of “revolting acts of degeneracy” at some campus parties, according to an article that was published in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper in 2002. Then-Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell was aware of the court, according to the Crimson article.
Nine students were originally expelled and two were allowed back into Harvard, according to information on an online petition to grant degrees to the students.
Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers apologized for the secret court’s actions in 2002, after the Crimson’s investigations. Their Day in the Yard was founded by an anonymous student at the Harvard Extension School who learned of the court’s actions and thought the school’s apologies were insufficient to compensate for the suffering of the expelled students, Stern said.
‘Born This Way’
Hours before the foundation event was to begin, Harvard students streamed past a black bus, painted with the words “Born to Be Brave,” and speakers pumping out Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” anthem. The bus, funded by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will follow the singer’s musical tours, serving as an information and drop-in center for young people concerned about bullying and other social issues, said Theresa Kettler, a volunteer from Chicago.
The Harvard campus offers a welcoming stage for the introduction of Gaga’s foundation, said Veronica Callozzo, another volunteer from Chicago.
“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s been a pretty supportive community,” she said in an interview aboard the bus. “There are a lot of fans of Lady Gaga, so that definitely helps.”
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