Cambridge resident Alyson Laliberte was playing outside with her daughter on the afternoon of July 14 when a neighbor she’d never met before approached her and asked her if she’d “move so her kids could nap.” And after Laliberte refused the woman sat on the curb and condescendingly (and with a smug look on her face) badgered her, asking her to prove she really lived there, and telling her to leave the property.
The kicker? When the woman asked Laliberte, whose daughter is mixed-race, “Are you one of the affordable units, or are you one of the Harvard units?” She didn’t even ask, “Do you live in…” one of the affordable units; she asks it as if Laliberte IS one of the units. The question is disgusting either way, but the way it’s asked implies that residents of “those” units are less-than.
Read Laliberte’s Facebook post below, and watch the video:
Laliberte didn’t know the woman’s name, so apparently the apartment complex isn’t holding regular community-building events. Through the power of social media, the woman was soon identified as Theresa Lund. Here’s a taste of the dialogue, in case you can’t watch the video. (Narrate this in elementary school mean-girl voice for Lund’s portions.)
TL: I didn’t swear at you.
AL: You just swore.
TL: You heard me wrong.
AL: You’re lying.
TL: No, you’re lying…. I’m gonna sit right here, with you….[Addressing Laliberte’s daughter] You are a sweetheart. I’m sorry that I’m arguing with your mommy. She’s not being very nice.
AL: Are you just mad because I won’t get off my own property….? Why are you sitting here with me?
TL: I’m sitting here because you’re preventing my children from sleeping. Would you like me to do that to you?
AL: Who’s even watching your kids right now? Are you? Because you’re not. You’re here with me and my kid.
TL: Are you one of the affordable units, or are you one of the Harvard units?
AL: Mind your business.
TL: Uh, I live here. This is my business. This is my home.
AL: Okay, so sit with me, but it’s none of your business where I live, what my name is…
Lund then cuts her off, demanding to know her name and saying she’s disturbing “the whole” neighborhood. As it starts to get a little heated, Laliberte’s daughter screams, probably uncomfortable with the way someone is talking to her mommy and feeling the negative vibe. Lund morphs back into condescending mode, thinking if she asks nicely she can bully someone into leaving their own home – for the good of her children.
TL: I’m not saying [inaudible] I’m asking you nicely.
AL: Okay, but I’m not going anywhere, ma’am. I live here. My kid is not doing anything wrong. Why should I leave?
TL: Which unit do you live in?
AL: It’s none of your business.
TL: Actually, it is. Because I will come outside your window and scream. You’re outside mine.
AL: Okay. Okay. Now excuse me while I go tend to my kid, because you’re obviously not.
She will go outside Laliberte’s window and scream so Laliberte can’t sleep. That’s mature, but not a surprising mindset from someone who obviously thinks because a person’s skin isn’t white they must live in an “affordable” unit.
In what’s one of the funniest twists of irony I’ve seen this year, it turns out that Lund is the Executive Director of – wait for it – the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative!
From her bio:
Theresa joined HHI after a year in Turkey, where she…worked with a local humanitarian group providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Ankara.
She worked to advance and disseminate evidence-based, experimental research that examines gender gaps in the areas of economic opportunity, political participation, health, and education. The findings from this work have been applied by leading decision-makers across sectors and around the world.
She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to Germany and a US Department of State Critical Language Fellowship to Turkey.
She has also completed executive education programs in negotiation and crisis leadership at Harvard University….
Unfortunately, she is unable to “negotiate” nap time with her toddlers.
After her identity and the video went viral, Lund posted an “apology” on her Facebook page.
“I am terribly sorry about the exchange I had with my neighbor on Saturday. What I said was inappropriate and wrong. I should not have addressed her daughter, and there was no reason for me to ask what type of unit she lived in. I have offered my sincere apology to her, her mother, and her daughter in person yesterday morning. 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. This clearly wasn’t my best moment, and I have work to do to more consistently be my best self. 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.”
Oh, you were committed to engaging in dialogue about how to make your community more pleasant to live in – for yourself. You just weren’t interested in anyone’s opinion that didn’t mesh with yours, and weren’t happy that someone you consider your inferior didn’t immediately recognize your superiority and conform with your expectations.
This apology is a non-apology. No mature, kind human being needs to work on being their best self to avoid being a smug, condescending, judgmental, elitist jerk. It just doesn’t occur to them. Mature human beings do not expect others to forego outdoor recreation with their family on a Saturday afternoon because their precious progeny won’t take direction and take a nap. Mature human beings do not threaten to stand outside a neighbor’s window at night and scream as retribution for… what, again?
Thursday night Michael Van Rooyen, Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, issued a statement:
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is an organization that promotes and defends humanitarian principles of service, equity, and justice. Our core values of integrity, collaboration, and respect for universal human rights are the foundation of all we do. It is within this context that I have been viewing the events of July 14th involving Theresa Lund. I wish to make clear that HHI does not condone her conduct during the exchange with Alyson Laliberte and her family.
Today, I write to share that Ms. Lund will be on-leave, effective immediately.
He goes on to say that the incident is really making them all take a long, hard look in the mirror and that the good old standby, “additional trainings” will take place to “address implicit and explicit bias, pursue opportunities to promote diversity and inclusion within our workplace, and continue our efforts to serve those affected by war, crisis, and disaster.”
Facebook commenter Vijay Prashad, a Marxist writer living in Lebanon, hit on a lot of truth in his observations:
“Theresa Lund…provided another window into liberal racism, the assumption that a non-white woman and her child had no place in a housing development near Harvard. It is worth watching the sanctimoniousness of the Harvard professor – who has a long career in the US imperialist bureaucracy.
“Lund is likely outraged by the presence of arch-racist Donald Trump. She should be. But then, what’s the difference to the three-year-old child who was enjoying a weekend afternoon with her mom between Donald Trump and this Harvard imperialist liberal? I mean, really.”
Unless the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is going to start providing some trainings on how to not be a smug know-it-all who thinks they should tell everyone, everywhere, how to think, what to say, and how to live their life, I have a feeling it’s going to fail.