‘Profound concern’: Unsent email drafts show Emerson officials acknowledging injuries, condemning protest arrests - The Boston Globe (2024)

“Please let me know if there are any necessary changes,” Michelle Gaseau, interim vice president of marketing and communications, wrote in an email to Jessicah Pierre, Wu’s chief communications officer, at around 11:45 p.m. “I understand that BPD is at the College now.”

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The back and forth with Wu’s team, revealed in a Globe public records request, provides a window into Emerson’s extraordinary efforts to coordinate its public messaging with the mayor, even as it tried to head off inevitable criticism from students and faculty over the arrests.

This paragraph was cut by Wu's team in the 11:45 p.m. April 24 draft from Michelle Gaseau:

‘Profound concern’: Unsent email drafts show Emerson officials acknowledging injuries, condemning protest arrests - The Boston Globe (1)

Ryan Huddle/Globe staff

The mayor’s staff pasted the original draft into a Google document and deleted the “concerning and troubling” language, among other revisions, records show. Hours later, around 7 a.m., Emerson sent Wu’s staff a new draft expressing “profound concern and anguish” about the arrests and mentioning student injuries. It’s not clear how Wu’s team responded, but those words never reached the campus community. Instead, Bernhardt’s statement said the clearing “significantly and adversely impacted our community,” and urged students to respect differences in opinion.

This is how the 7 a.m. draft opened. Gaseau emailed it to Jessicah Pierre on Wu's team and asked for final feedback, before excising the points about anguish and injuries:

‘Profound concern’: Unsent email drafts show Emerson officials acknowledging injuries, condemning protest arrests - The Boston Globe (2)

Ryan Huddle/Globe staff

All told, 118 people were arrested in what would become the first, and the most violent, clearing of a college encampment in Greater Boston. Emerson students and faculty recorded videos and streamed live footage as police cleared protesters from the Boylston Place alleyway, which is owned by the city. Police said no students were hospitalized during the arrests, but videos show police shoving students to the ground, and some students later said they suffered injuries, including concussions and bruises.

The final letter, sent to the campus community around noon April 25 and signed by Bernhardt, offered little remorse and made no mention that students were hurt. Criticism from students and faculty came swiftly.

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“There was no acknowledgment that there were any injuries at all,” said Anna Feder, head of film exhibitions and festivals at the college, who livestreamed the arrests. “This has been the frustration from the students and from faculty and staff, that they’re not taking responsibility for what happened. They’re shirking responsibility of the institution.”

Gaseau declined to speak about the emails, but offered a brief statement on behalf of Emerson.

“Given the sensitivity of the topic, the College sought input from multiple stakeholders to ensure our messages were accurate,” Gaseau wrote in an email.

Ricardo Patrón, who was recently appointed Wu’s deputy chief of staff, said the mayor had several conversations with Bernhardt, but said the two did not discuss the specific language of Emerson’s statements.

Related: Wu doubles down on defense of Boston police action on Emerson protest encampment

“We were in close communication with them throughout their entire process,” Patrón said. He said the city had been clear about working with the college since the encampment went up.

Patrón said he was not sure whether anyone on the mayor’s team discussed mentioning injuries with college officials, and he directed all questions about specific wording to the college.

Niko Emack, an affiliated faculty member at Emerson and an alum of the college, said students in his “Argument and Advocacy” course were disheartened by the college’s messaging because it undermined Emerson’s integrity and commitment to free expression.

“It’s a marketing and a communication school. It’s a school that is so enriched in the arts and developing communication,” Emack said. “It’s really dangerous to betray the brand.”

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Videos show police arresting protesters, forcibly removing Emerson pro-Palestinian tent encampment

The college’s communications with the city the night of the arrests could further wound Bernhardt, who has barely served a year in office, and who was already facing criticism from students and faculty before the clearing, which helped spark student and faculty votes of no confidence. In March, protesters disrupted his inauguration. Weeks later, the demonstrations, and the rage over the arrests, echoed through commencement.

Hana Wallen, then a junior at Suffolk University, said she sustained bruises on both legs and a scratch on her forehead as police arrested her. But she said others appeared more seriously hurt.

“I saw blood, I saw teeth, I saw people getting dragged and choked out,” Wallen said.

Owen Buxton, an Emerson senior who was among those arrested, argued that the revised drafts show the college was more focused on preserving its image than supporting its students. Buxton said he suffered a concussion when he was thrown by police officers against the school’s Norman Lear statue.

“They know that what happened was wrong, and they know that they really, really messed up, but that they weren’t comfortable putting that out publicly,” Buxton said.

Last month, Bernhardt sent out an internal email to staff and faculty, explaining that lower-than-expected enrollment numbers could mean staff and programming cuts. He blamed, in part, “negative press and social media generated from the demonstrations and arrests.”

Daniel Kool can be reached at daniel.kool@globe.com. Follow him @dekool01. Ava Berger can be reached at ava.berger@globe.com. Follow her @Ava_Berger_.

‘Profound concern’: Unsent email drafts show Emerson officials acknowledging injuries, condemning protest arrests - The Boston Globe (2024)
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