February 29th, 2012 | City

Protesters ask Harvard to grant honorary degrees

John Harvard rests on Harvard's campus
John Harvard rests on Harvard's campus Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

As Lady Gaga launches her Born This Way Foundation at Harvard today, protestors are calling on the university to renounce century-old anti-gay policies.

A Facebook event asked Harvard students and affiliates to meet at 3 p.m. in front of Sanders Theater to ask the university to officially renounce a secret court it created in the 1920s to find and expel gay students and award them an honorary degree. Protestors say they will present Harvard administrators with an online petition in support of these demands which, as of 4:30 p.m., had received more than 5,200 signatures.

According to Their Day in the Yard movement, which was launched by a Harvard student in 2010 to “help the expelled students achieve the recognition that they deserve,” then-Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell authorized a “secret court” in 1920 to find and remove gay students from the university and from the city of Cambridge. Nine students were expelled by the courts, the movement claims. Eugene Cummings was three weeks from graduating when he was implicated by the court and kicked out of Harvard. He committed suicide a month later.

“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,” then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers said in a 2002 statement to The Harvard Crimson. But current President Faust has said, according to the Crimson, that the expelled students do not meet the criteria for posthumous degrees.

The movement will ask the university to officially abolish the secret court and reverse its decisions. The event’s Facebook page also encourages protestors to attend the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.