Red Sox Hall of Famer Tommy Harper has accused Christine Caswell, director of undergraduate studies in Boston College’s communication department, of racial bias, as first reported by The Boston Globe.
Jon Meterparel, a play-by-play announcer for BC’s men’s basketball and football teams and a part-time faculty member in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, was walking Caswell’s golden labrador retriever through her Sharon, Mass. neighborhood last spring when the dog defecated on Harper’s front lawn. Harper said that Meterparel kept walking and did not retrieve the dog waste from his yard, according to The Boston Globe.
Harper, who watched the incident transpire, collected the dog waste and approached Caswell’s front door, where the two neighbors got into a dispute.
“I witnessed him confront her in an angry, profanity-laced manner,” Meterparel said in a statement to The Globe. “She and her children were frightened after this incident with a man they had never before met.”
Meterparel did not respond to a request for comment from The Heights.
Harper denied Meterparel’s account of the conversation. Harper told The Globe he was taken aback by his interaction with Caswell at her doorstep, where he was expecting a friendly encounter with his neighbor.
Harper did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Heights.
The following morning, Caswell wrote in her neighborhood’s Facebook group that she was “shocked” to find that “the old man that lives next door” was “screaming” at her and her children, according to The Globe. She described Harper as “angry, keyed-up, and violent-tongued.”
“My two teens were rattled to the core and my youngest said he feels like the guy is going to throw a rock through our window,” Caswell wrote.
Caswell also posted the location of Harper’s home to the Facebook group, warning her neighbors to avoid it while walking their dogs.
More than six months after the initial incident, Caswell claimed that Harper was staring at her while her dogs were relieving themselves on a neighbor’s property, and reported Harper to the Sharon Police Department on Oct. 27, according to The Globe.
In a comment to The Heights, Caswell said she reported the October incident 24 hours after it occurred.
Harper said that he was merely looking at his neighbor while raking his lawn. Caswell made an inappropriate hand gesture toward him and called him a “dirty old man,” according to Harper’s statement to The Globe.
Caswell denied Harper’s assertion.
Harper claimed that racial bias motivated Caswell’s decision to contact the police.
“I recognize there are millions of white women who do not lie to police to get the upper hand on an African American man over a minor dispute, but history tells us that they have the power to do so, and that’s the point here,” he said to The Globe.
Caswell told The Heights that in reporting the incident to the police, she sought mediation.
“As an educator, I also encourage my female students to not endure threats in silence,” Caswell said. “By walking into a local police station and seeking advice from authorities 24 hours after the October incident, my goal was to seek peaceful mediation and I was confident that would be the final outcome. To characterize this in any other way is unfair and inconsistent with what occurred.”
The police determined that no crime had occurred between the two neighbors, and suggested that the two attempt to reconcile. Caswell rejected the recommendation, according to The Globe.
Caswell told The Heights in an email that The Boston Globe misportrayed the encounter.
“I had an unfortunate neighborhood encounter last year that The Boston Globe inaccurately portrayed,” Caswell wrote. “I am heartbroken over the mischaracterization and any pain it may have caused the BC community. Given the political climate and long standing tensions surrounding racial injustice, I am empathetic to the injustices my accuser has suffered throughout his life.”
Others in the neighborhood expressed support for Harper’s sentiments.
Dave Sullivan, another of Harper’s neighbors, shared a similar incident with The Globe in which Meterparel failed to clean up waste remains left by Caswell’s dog on his lawn. Sullivan left a note when no one answered the doorbell at Caswell’s house, and when she arrived home, he said, Caswell sent her daughter to apologize on behalf of Meterparel.
“Tommy and his wife Bonnie are wonderful neighbors,” Sullivan told The Globe. “I have deep respect for him. He feels he’s being dragged through the mud, and it seems unjustly so.”
Another neighbor, Dan McLaughlin, had a similar opinion of Harper.
“I’ve never had an unkind word with Tommy, and I’ve never seen the kind of behavior that has been attributed to him,” McLaughlin said in an interview with The Globe.
In a statement to The Heights, former BC student and women’s basketball player Milan Bolden-Morris attested to Caswell’s character.
“As an athlete I struggled with mental health, eating disorder habits, and more while being a student in her class,” she said. “After sharing my mental and physical health issues with her, she immediately became an advocate for me and wore whatever hat I needed her to wear for every moment we encountered each other. She was mom when I needed her, adviser when I needed her, and therapist when I needed someone to listen.”
Harper told The Globe that the events that transpired between himself and Caswell have left him feeling out of place in his neighborhood of 33 years.
“I haven’t given anyone reason to fear me, yet when my neighbors cross the street when they see me working in my yard, I wonder if they do so because of social distancing or because of Caswell’s warning people to steer clear of me,” he said to The Globe.
Edelsa Mejia, an academic advisee of Caswell and MCAS ’21, questioned the legitimacy of Harper’s claims.
“I guess ever since [The Globe] contacted him, he called her racist because she called the police and because he was Black,” she said. “And whatever feelings he had about the situation are his feelings, I’m no one to say anything, but … considering the political climate now and the racial climate now, the word racism could be thrown around anyways.”
According to The Globe, Harper never claimed that Caswell said or did anything that was explicitly racist, but said that she acted with racial bias. His race, he said, was the determining factor in Caswell’s reaction.
“Subtle racism is real, like a summer breeze,” he said to The Globe. “You can’t see it, but you can feel it.”
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor