On Monday morning we reported that dozens of books dealing with LGBT subject matter, were vandalized at a Harvard library with what appeared to be urine. But now the college has announced the damaged books were the result of an “accident,” and not a suspected hate crime as University police originally suspected.
In a campus wide memorandum released Monday, after national media picked up on the story originally reported by Harvard’s student Newspaper, The Crimson, Evelynn M. Hammonds, Dean of the Harvard College, of which the Lamont Library is a component, wrote to the university’s community saying:
“The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) and the College were notified this past Friday by Harvard College Library personnel that 36 books related to gay and lesbian studies were damaged in Lamont Library on November 24, 2010.
This incident was initially reported as vandalism and characterized as a hate-crime because of the focused nature and related topics of the damaged books.
HUPD has continued to investigate this incident since the initial report and we have learned this morning that the books, while indeed damaged, were damaged by our own library personnel accidentally spilling a bottle of what was reported to be urine that had been left on the shelf.
I believe this is an important new fact in the investigation and warrants my sharing it with you immediately.
While we should not minimize the seriousness of this incident, HUPD is no longer classifying this incident as a hate crime. This nuance in the facts in the case also explains why library personnel did not immediately report the incident and treated it instead as a prank.
I am also pleased to report that the Harvard College Library intends to replace all 36 books as soon as possible.”
Hammonds declined to make further comment, instead referring inquiries to the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Jeff Neal, who told reporters in an email response that it “remains unclear why a bottle of urine was located in the library.”
Neal also clarified that the understanding from the Lamont Library officials and HUPD investigators was that the spill was reported by the library employee — the individual who accidentally caused the spill — and cleaned it up that same day it occurred, to the appropriate library supervisors.
Neal refused to speculate on why the urine was there and how 36 books of a specific nature were destroyed as the result of the accidental spill.
In replying to questions regarding the initial appearance of the incident as an act of homophobia, Neal reiterated Hammonds statement:
“Dean Hammonds has repeatedly emphasized the importance of creating a welcoming environment for all students and all affiliates of all backgrounds throughout the Harvard community,” Neal wrote, adding that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in Harvard’s non-discrimination statement.
Harvard College Library spokeswoman Beth S. Brainard declined to comment, referring all questions regarding the incident to Neal and a spokesman for the Harvard University police stated that they would have no further comment on the incident pending final review of the results of the investigation.
“On the one hand, I feel relieved by the news — but on the other hand, I’m still holding breath on questions that are still unresolved,” said Marco Chan, co-chair of Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, in an interview published last night by The Crimson.
“Why was there a bottle of urine on the shelf? Why did it take two weeks for library or HUPD to figure out that this was just an accident? Did someone suddenly come forward?” Chan wondered.