(Update at bottom) There is another sad tale of a Harvard Extension School student attempting to pass himself off as a Harvard College freshman. (Or maybe not; the person claims he went to the Extension School, but the school hasn’t confirmed it). I say “sad” because similar tales erupt every few years. They involve people who so want to be part of an elite group, that they lie about their backgrounds and use tricks to dupe other members of the Harvard community. Sometimes crimes are committed by the impostors, while at other times the friends or contacts from the larger Harvard community feel like their trust has been abused.
That’s bad enough. But there’s another element, too. When cases of Harvard Extension School impostors are exposed in such a public fashion, they perpetuate the notion that Extension School students are trying to pass themselves off as Harvard College students. I once thought these were isolated, rare examples. But I’m sorry to say that the more cases I see like this (at least four that have been reported in the press), coupled with vague or misleading claims by some Extension School students and alumni (e.g., saying “I’m a Harvard graduate” but going out of their way to avoid any mention of their Extension School affiliation), the more I realize that there are quite a few Extension students who have unhealthy identity issues and/or obsessions with the Harvard “brand”. It distracts from the positive experiences and contributions that many other Extension School students have made during their time at the University, and reflects poorly on us all. Thanks to the coverage in The Crimson of these cases, many or most of the members of the College classes from 2000-2015 have been exposed to news of Extension School posers actively misrepresenting themselves in an attempt to be viewed as Harvard College students.
How to fake being a Harvard College student
The Crimson has the story about the latest case:
… A 27-year-old student at Harvard Extension School was escorted out of Weld Hall on Thursday by Harvard University Police Department officers after sleeping in friends’ rooms in the freshman dormitory and telling students that he was a freshman at the College.
Over a period of two months, the Extension School student told Harvard College students that he lived in Weld, a dorm in Harvard Yard. He sometimes spent the night there when invited by freshman acquaintances.
The student also created a presence at Harvard online, posting frequently to the Harvard University Class of 2015 Facebook group and becoming friends on the social networking website with Harvard students he had never met in person. Pictures of him taken in freshman dorms and posted on Facebook added to his credibility, acquaintances said. Since Thursday, his account has become unsearchable and his posts to the Harvard freshman group are gone.
He was convincing enough with his words and online social networking profiles to dupe many students, including staff at the Crimson, who featured him in a magazine special earlier this year. But others knew he was lying, as he wasn’t in the Freshman Register and needed help getting access to certain buildings.
The Harvard Independent has more details about the ruses he used, as well as the text of a police report indicating stolen property (an ID card) was involved. He admitted to The Crimson that he lied about his College status and forged an ID card.
A lot of information is being disputed (read the comments of the Harvard Independent article), and there are allegations that the administration is trying to keep it out of the media, but it’s sure to be noticed. While the charges against him are relatively minor, his time at Harvard is over and the story is not good for the Extension School.
Update: The backlash has started. The story has spread to the national media (Gawker and HuffPo) and lots of negative comments on many of the articles. See the linked Crimson article, above, to understand the tone of the conversation.