Published January 14, 2015
Chanequa Campbell soared out of one of Brooklyn's most troubled neighborhoods, parlaying a stellar high school record into prestigious scholarships and a coveted spot at Harvard University. She spent four years seeing the world and making her voice heard in her new Cambridge home.
But mere weeks from graduation, Harvard banned Campbell from campus after a shooting in her dormitory left one man dead and a friend's boyfriend charged with murder.
Harvard has declined to discuss Campbell's case, except to vaguely cite the shooting, and her attorney says she has not been formally expelled. The Middlesex district attorney's has said only that it is investigating what roles two female students may have played in the killing.
"All she wants is she wants Harvard to do the right thing, and that is to allow somebody that had absolutely no involvement in the shooting ... to do what every other student is doing on June 4," her attorney Jeffrey Karp said. "And that's walk down the aisle, have her day, one of the best days of her life."
But with graduation scheduled for Thursday, that hope is fading, and Campbell is left wondering whether her background was a reason she won't finish school.
"Harvard is doing this to me because I'm black, I'm poor and I'm from Brooklyn," Campbell told the New York Post last week. Through Karp, Campbell has denied repeated requests for an interview.
Campbell was raised by her mother in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, a place where drugs and violence are a frequent backdrop.
But Campbell stayed above the trouble, becoming a top student at Brooklyn's Packer Collegiate Institute, a private preparatory school, despite a diagnosis of lupus her sophomore year that forced her to walk with a cane and stay out of the sun.
She improved so much by her high school graduation in 2005 that she was on the basketball and track teams. She was president of the multicultural student organization and represented the school at a national conference on student diversity and leadership, said Bruce L. Dennis, Packer's headmaster.
In her first year at Harvard, Campbell immediately immersed herself, organizing a "Black Tees for Black History" campaign in which students wore black T-shirts to raise awareness about Black History Month. She also became involved with the Association of Black Harvard Women.
Campbell spent the 2007-08 academic year studying abroad, visiting 12 countries, taking classes in England and skydiving in Switzerland, according to an article on her trip in the school paper, The Harvard Crimson.
Campbell wanted to continue traveling after graduation, but those plans changed after May 18, when prosecutors say three men ambushed another man inside Kirkland House, the same dorm where Campbell lived. The men originally planned to rob Justin Cosby, who was carrying $1,000 in cash and a pound of marijuana, but he was shot instead. None were Harvard students.
One person, Jabrai Jordan Copney, has been charged with murder, but no other charges have been filed.
Copney gained access to the Kirkland House dorm with a student's electronic key card, prosecutors said. That key did not come from Campbell, Karp said.
Campbell has said she didn't know Cosby, though she is friends with Copney's girlfriend. And Campbell has denied any involvement, saying she was taking an exam and at work at the time of the shooting.
She claims she was ordered off campus May 22 with little notice and without being told why.
Karp said his client stands by her belief that race may have played a role in Harvard deciding to ban her from graduation, though she has had second thoughts about raising race as an issue.
"This is an inner city kid who Harvard essentially has educated, has housed, has fed, has insured," Karp said. "They've been her provider for four years and she feels loyalty to them, notwithstanding what's been done here. ... She doesn't want to alienate Harvard, but she also wants Harvard to understand that she's disappointed."