Demand Public Accountability from the Harvard Lampoon

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Jenny Baker
Jenny Baker signed this petition

On May 12, 2019, the Harvard Lampoon—a nearly 150 year-old “comedy” magazine—released an issue that included an image of Anne Frank's head photoshopped onto the body of a hypersexualized, bikini-clad woman titled: “Gone Before Her Time: Virtual Aging Technology Shows Us What Anne Frank Would Have Looked Like if She Hadn't Died,” and captioned with “Add this to your list of reasons the Holocaust Sucked” (Shown above). Pictures of that cartoon have since gone viral on Facebook, sparking outrage from students and public condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League of New England.

This is not the first time that the Harvard Lampoon has produced and publicly distributed deeply offensive remarks. The recent issue also trivializes suicide, 9/11, and school shootings (which seems particularly egregious given the Lampoon’s decision to host the Parkland survivors in their castle last March). Administrators at the Dean of Students Office reportedly met with Lampoon earlier this semester to raise concerns about their Crimson parody issue, which contained flippant content about “suicide forests,” an “Adolf Hitler memorial room,” and sexual assault.

This incident is directly connected to a entrenched culture of racism, misogyny, elitism, and hazing that has defined the Lampoon in recent years. Alleged practices that have occurred inside its castle include locking compers in storage units and moving vans, initiation “orgies” and sleep deprivation, snorting cocaine at comp meetings, and shady business strategies requiring undergraduate compers raise tens of thousands of dollars for the organization in ad deals and trades before cutting them from the comp. Students have reported the use of racist and homophobic slurs (the n-word, f*ggot, ch*nk, etc.) by Lampoon members in and outside the castle, not to mention references to a “rape den.” To be clear: its relentless stream of sexist, racist and anti-Semitic content is a logical outgrowth of a corrupt internal culture where members exercise infinite freedom at the harm of everyone else.

However, the Lampoon is not just a group of undergraduates making “jokes.” The Lampoon is a powerful old institution with an network of famous alumni, millions of dollars in assets, and a prominent castle on Bow Street at the heart of Harvard’s campus. Its sexist and racist culture discourages women and minorities from entering comedy, exacerbating an already-pressing diversity problem within the field. It hosts famous celebrities at its castle, who are often unaware of the toxic culture inside. Furthermore, the Lampoon maintains a fictitious perception on campus as a necessary stepping stone to a successful career in comedy—thereby giving it extraordinary power to silence those internal and external to the Lampoon from speaking publicly about its abuses.

For years, students at Harvard have publicly criticized the Lampoon and pushed for reform. Lampoon members have consistently refused any meaningful change or transparency, as demonstrated by its flimsy “apology” — which fails to even apologize to the student groups impacted most by the content, does not acknowledge the group’s prior history of offensive behavior, and reads as a straightforward attempt to stifle controversy on this specific issue before returning to business as usual.

Enough is enough. We demand the Lampoon take the following steps to adequately address the concerns of afflicted students and the wider Harvard community (demands will be updated as time progresses):

  1. Individual public apologies on Facebook and in press statements from the author of the Anne Frank article, Cristóbal de Losada ’21; the editor for that issue, Liana Spiro ’19; and presidents of the club Nick Grundlingh ‘20 and Jack Stovitz ’20; in addition to separate, individual meetings with the members of Harvard Hillel and other cultural groups to discuss the impact of their publication upon student well-being.
  2. The release of a public report regarding how the content was published and what concrete steps will be immediately implemented  to prevent this from happening in the future, in addition to public acknowledgement of and apology for prior hazing and hate speech incidents.
  3. Full transparency regarding the comp and initiation processes to end the practice of any coercive and/or illegal activities and dissolve the climate of fear, mystery and intimidation surrounding the institution. This includes:
    - Making all information about the comp — including the number of rounds, expected event attendance, requirements for office hours, details of selection procedures, and expectations at comp socials — publicly accessible online for any and all to see.

    - Requiring the presidents, “accessibility” council, and other relevant parties to host at minimum one public meeting per semester outside the castle, so anyone can raise concerns or ask for information in a neutral forum.  

    - Committing publicly to no smoking or illegal drugs, no alcohol, and no formal dress code during comp meetings.
  4. The creation of a comprehensive sexual harassment and assault policy and commitment to yearly full-staff OSAPR and Diversity Peer Educator (DPE) training.

Furthermore, we call for an investigation into the Lampoon’s comp process and functioning by the offices of Diversity and Inclusion, OSAPR, and Harvard University Police regarding reported policies and incidents of hazing and sexual assault.

If these steps are not taken and, following additional review, the Lampoon still fails to meet acceptable standards of inclusion and transparency, we also call upon the University to intervene in the Lampoon just as they intervened in final clubs. We demand the Lampoon lose access to any and all support of Harvard University-affiliated funds and meeting spaces until the concerns of students have been sufficiently addressed.

Events:

- April 2018: Solange Azor ‘18, the former president of the Harvard College Stand Up Comics Society, identifies the Lampoon’s “toxic comp, initiation & party culture,” “income/wealth disparities,” and “sexual violence @ parties, use of racial slurs.” She notes that the Lampoon has  has “immense power to pressure their members to conform to certain behaviors”: https://www.facebook.com/solange.azor/posts/10216051132128110

- February 2019: Cat Zhang ‘19, former editor-in-chief of Satire V, details multiple failed attempts over the past year to convince the Lampoon to reform from within: https://www.facebook.com/catherine.zhang.14/posts/2462905483722817

- May 2019: Jenny Baker, Paulette Schuster, Jacob Schwartz, and other students post criticism of the Anne Frank graphic

- May 2019: Executive Director of Harvard Hillel responded to the Lampoon, saying that, “Your depiction of Anne Frank’s face grafted to pinup imagery goes far beyond the distastefulness and provocativeness you obviously intend.  It is the sexual violation of a child – one who, in life, was subjected to the most hideous of crimes. By producing and spreading such an image, you effectively join yourselves to the obscenity of the Nazis themselves and carry it forward.  It is an image one can imagine Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Stürmer, producing and celebrating – in the “lewd and disgusting” vein to which the judgment against him at the Nuremberg tribunal refers.”

- May 2019: Anti-Defamation League New England Twitter Statement: Nothing funny about @Harvard @harvardlampoon publishing vulgar, offensive & sexualized Anne Frank meme that denigrates her memory & millions of #Holocaust victims. Trivializing #genocide plays into the hands of #antisemites & Holocaust deniers. Immediate apology needed.