Black Harvard Students Held at Gunpoint by Campus Police in Swatting Attack

The four students woke up to five armed university police officers responding to a 911 call that turned out to be false.
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on April 6, 2023
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  • Officers responded to an early morning 911 call that there was an armed individual threatening violence in an on-campus residence suite.
  • The call turned out to be false, but this was only discovered after the students were awoken from their sleep, held at gunpoint, and had their rooms searched.
  • The students say they are still scared and traumatized by the experience, particularly due to the history of police brutality in the Black community.

Four Black undergraduate students at Harvard University were held at gunpoint early Monday morning by campus police responding to an apparent "swatting" attack.

The fourth-year students — Jarah K. Cotton, Jazmin N. Dunlap, David G. Madzivanyika, and Alexandra C. René — were awoken by banging on the door of their residence suite around 4 a.m. and found at least five armed university police officers ushering them out of their rooms and into the hallway.

Throughout this instruction, the officers had their rifles pointed at the students.

The officers were responding to a 911 call that turned out to be false. The caller told 911 operators that there was an armed individual in the suite in Harvard student housing.

Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) spokesperson Steven G. Catalano told The Harvard Crimson, the university's student-run newspaper that the officers were sent to the suite after a report "threatening violence against occupants," but after a search found "negative results for an individual with a firearm or any persons acting in a suspicious manner."

Though the students were briefed by the campus officers about the false call immediately after the search, they remain shocked and traumatized by the experience, according to reporting.

"We were all extremely scared, particularly because my roommates and I are Black students who have been bombarded our whole lives with stories and images portraying how situations such as this had ended up terribly," Cotton told The Harvard Crimson. "We felt our lives were in danger. We are traumatized."

Cotton also expressed her disappointment in the lack of universitywide acknowledgment.

"Being accosted in your place of residence warrants a universitywide response, warrants the president's attention, warrants the dean of students' attention, warrants an email, at the very least," she told The Harvard Crimson.

Despite a lack of broader acknowledgement from the university as a whole, the deans of the residence house where the incident took place sent an email detailing the early morning events and offering support resources to students who may need them. They additionally hosted an evening gathering to discuss the raid.

It's been determined that the students were victims of an act called "swatting," where a false emergency call is placed with the intent of dispatching armed police to a group or individual in order to harass, torment, or place them in danger.

Due to the nature of the false report, the FBI was notified and is coordinating with HUPD on the matter.