We were concerned this week to learn about pending disciplinary actions against a group of LLMs stemming from simple hospitality at this January’s annual International Party. It seems that seven country tables served local alcohol along with native dishes, violating the alcohol use policy that requires students to only use alcohol provided by Sodexho. After attempts to resolve the situation through the Dean of Students Office failed, the 14 students, including two LLM class representatives, were called to face a disciplinary hearing Wednesday, which happened after the Record went to press.
As news of the potential sanctions spread over the past week, so has widespread support from the HLS student body. A Facebook group dedicated to the issue gained over 300 members in just two days, and a number of students signed petitions of support for use at the hearing. Some students advocated a boycott of the Hark cafeteria Wednesday in support of the affected LLMs, though it is unclear how much traction that proposal gained among students.
This controversy comes at an important time, since Sodexho’s food service contract with Harvard University is up for renewal. HLS Advocates for Human Rights has refused to buy food or drink from Sodexho for their events because of concerns over their corporate practices, which have been criticized at a number of universities and include several issues from anti-union activity to connections with private prisons. We have nothing negative to say about the individual Sodexho employees at the law school, who have been responsive and positive about even minor mentions in the Record, but there is certainly a lot to think about in regards to the larger company’s record.
We question the wisdom of both the current alcohol policy and of disciplining the involved students. As we understand it, the exact same service of alcohol from students’ native countries happened at last year’s International Party, with no consequences, leading to the good-faith belief that doing it again was not any kind of violation and would not be met with discipline. And if the school doesn’t mind letting a group of adults drink Sodexho-provided beer and wine at a party at school, we’re not sure what the big deal is about a taste of stout, caipirinha, tequila, or any other national drink, especially alongside student-provided national dishes. But even if the school has safety or other legitimate reasons for granting an alcohol monopoly, it doesn’t seem like these students meant to do anything wrong, and we don’t see why a disciplinary hearing is warranted in the first place.
We’re generally big fans of Dean Cosgrove and her office, so perhaps we misunderstand the facts and there’s more to it. And we’re glad to hear that expulsion and suspension were ruled out as consequences for the involved students. But even a formal reprimand from one’s law school is a stain on a legal career, and many LLMs already have distinguished careers underway. We will be very disappointed to hear that students did end up being disciplined for what seems like an enthusiastic and innocent effort at a great multicultural party. Perhaps something good can come of this incident: it provides an opportunity for the administration and students to come together to discuss the school’s alcohol policy and ongoing relationship with Sodexho, and how both can be altered to provide a better environment for all.