Menu

Education

Harvard group seeks degrees for gays expelled

Students and faculty at Harvard University are urging administrators to award posthumous degrees to seven students expelled from the Ivy League school in 1920 because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

The group plans to hold a rally Wednesday during a campus visit by Lady Gaga, who will be at Harvard to launch her Born This Way anti-bullying foundation. The singer has been a strong activist for the gay community.

The group wants Harvard to formally abolish its so-called "secret court," a tribunal of administrators that investigated charges of homosexual activity among students in 1920. The tribunal remained a secret for decades, only becoming public in 2002 after a student reporter at Harvard searching the school's archive came across a file labeled "secret court" and reported on the school's expulsion of the students.

Lady Gaga's new foundation, named after her 2011 hit song and album, will address issues such as self-confidence, well-being and anti-bullying through research, education and advocacy. The singer is expected to be joined by Oprah Winfrey, spiritual leader Deepak Chopra and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a kickoff event Wednesday on the Harvard campus.

"Given the Born This Way Foundation's commitment to this mission and their choice to launch their foundation at Harvard, we felt like this was an opportunity to ask for their support and would hope they would join us in asking Harvard to do the right thing here and help seek justice for these students," said Kaia Stern, a visiting faculty member at Harvard who plans to attend the rally.

Harvard administrators apologized for the secret court in 2002.

Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers called the episode "abhorrent and an affront to the values of our university."

"I want to express our deep regret for the way this situation was handled, as well as the anguish the students and their families must have experienced eight decades ago," Summers said in a 2002 statement to The Harvard Crimson newspaper.

A Harvard spokesman did not immediately return calls Tuesday seeking comment.

Jonas Wang, a 21-year-old transgender student at Harvard, said it's important for Harvard to confer the honorary degrees on the expelled students, despite the passage of nearly a century.

"It's not reparations, it's more of a gesture to the present LGBT community that this university has cemented its values on the right side of history and it's willing to address -- not just put in the past -- the aberrations of the 1920s," Wang said. "You can say that the people of the court were the victims of their own culture, but this is something we are addressing in the present."

More than 2,700 people have signed a petition on Change.org urging Harvard to confer the honorary degrees. Rally organizers plan to deliver the petition to Harvard President Drew Faust's office after the rally.

According to the original report in Harvard Crimson's magazine, the Harvard tribunal began its investigation after Harvard student Cyril Wilcox committed suicide in his Fall River home in May 1920. Wilcox was having academic and health problems and had been asked to leave Harvard.

When Wilcox's brother, George, informed the acting dean of the college, Chester Greenough, of Cyril's suicide, he passed on letters that left no doubt that he was part of a group of gay men at Harvard.

After consulting with Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, Greenough convened a group of administrators to gather evidence.

The expelled students, including the son of former U.S. Rep. Ernest William Roerts, were told to leave the Harvard campus -- and Cambridge -- immediately.

Eugene Cummings, 23, committed suicide at Harvard's infirmary.

A student movement called "Their Day in the Yard" was founded in 2010 to urge the university to grant the honorary degrees to the students expelled in 1920.

Bank Rates

Loan Type Graph Rate +/- Last Week
30 Y Fixed Graph 4.24% dw 4.29%  
15 Y Fixed Graph 3.33% up 3.28%  
30 Y Fixed Jumbo Graph 4.57% dw 4.71%  
5/1 ARM Graph 3.65% dw 3.78%  
5/1 Jumbo ARM Graph 3.44% dw 3.50%  
Loan Type Graph Rate +/- Last Week
$30K HELOC Graph 4.47% dw 4.50%  
$50K HELOC Graph 4.17% dw 4.19%  
$30K Loan Graph 5.11% up 5.10%  
$50K Loan Graph 4.56% up 4.54%  
$75K Loan Graph 4.51% up 4.50%  
Loan Type Graph Rate +/- Last Week
36 M New Graph 2.91% up 2.90%  
36 M Used Graph 3.42% -- 3.42%  
48 M New Graph 3.19% up 3.18%  
48 M Used Graph 2.95% -- 2.95%  
60 M New Graph 3.22% up 3.21%  
Loan Type Graph Yield +/- Last Week
6 month Graph 0.35% -- 0.35%  
1 yr Graph 0.68% -- 0.68%  
5 yr Graph 1.37% -- 1.37%