Harvard researcher apologises for asking neighbour with biracial daughter if they lived in ‘affordable units’

Kimberley Richards
Harvard University building: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A woman employed at a Harvard University has apologised for recently asking her neighbour, with a biracial daughter, if they lived in “affordable units”.

Theresa Lund, who is the executive director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) according to its website, wrote an e-mail to the Boston Globe saying she was “terribly sorry” for her encounter with her neighbour, and that it was “inappropriate and wrong”.

“I want to be accountable for my actions in a situation where I fell far short of my values and what I expect of myself,” Ms Lund told the Globe. “This clearly wasn’t my best moment, and I have work to do to more consistently be my best self.”

Alyson Laliberte, who lives in the Boston-area, detailed her encounter with Ms Lund in a post published on Facebook on 14, July. Ms Lailberte shared a video featuring Ms Lund, who can be heard complaining that Ms Laliberte was by some means preventing her children from taking a nap in their residence nearby.

Ms Lailberte wrote that Ms Lund asked her and her daughter to move so her children could nap inside. She referred to Ms Lund as another “Permit Patty,” in reference to a recent widely reported incident where a white woman called the police on a black eight-year-old girl for “illegally” selling bottled water. Likewise, Ms Lund has similarly been dubbed “Sidewalk Susie” on social media.

“Y’all here is another Permit Patty trying to kick me off my own property because she’s having a hard time getting her kids to take a nap at 3.30pm in the afternoon on a Saturday,” Ms Lailberte wrote in part. She added: “Mind you it’s [midday] and we weren’t even being loud at all drawing with chalk.”

Ms Lailberte said that Ms Lund enquired about her apartment number and questioned whether she lived in units owned by Harvard University.

“Are you in one of the affordable units? Or are you in one of the Harvard units,” the HHI executive director can be heard asking according to the video footage.

Ms Lailberte’s post has since gone viral; it’s been shared more than 21,000 times on Facebook. Many on social media have taken to the HHI Facebook page to demand Ms Lund be fired.

“Is there a reason why Theresa Lund is still employed by Harvard?” one Facebook user wrote. “Does Harvard condone racism?”

HHI is a “university-wide academic and research centre in humanitarian crisis and leadership”, its website states. It conducts research on the practice of relieving human suffering in war, among other missions. The initiative is supported by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Neither HHI or the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health immediately responded to enquiries.

During the video Ms Lund can be seen addressing Ms Lailberte’s daughter directly, saying her mother was not “being very nice”.

She later admitted to the Globe she should not have addressed the young girl.

“I offered my sincere apology to her, her mother, and her daughter in person [Sunday] morning,” she said. “I love our community and am committed to engaging in dialogue and actions about how to make it more welcoming and pleasant for all of us to live in together.”

In her Facebook post recapping the incident, Ms Lailberte described Ms Lund’s actions as “totally discriminating and racist”.

“It was totally discriminating and racist of her.. or maybe it was because my daughter is biracial who knows,” she wrote. “I have no idea who this woman is and the fact that she thinks she has some kind of authority over me is crazy!”