Dear President Bacow, Dean Manning, Dean Sells, Dean Claypool, Dean Jefferson, and Members of the Harvard Law School Administration:
The messages sent earlier this week by President Bacow, Dean Manning, and Dean Sells failed to explicitly denounce anti-Black racisms, police brutality, and the pernicious effects of state-sanctioned violence. Harvard’s Black Law Student Association (HBLSA) calls upon the Administration to unequivocally denounce state-sanctioned violence and racially motivated animus towards Black people. It is Harvard’s obligation to not only unequivocally condemn state-sanctioned violence and police brutality but also use its position of power and privilege to generate true systemic change.
Harvard Law School holds itself as not only the preeminent legal institution in the country but the world, it must affirm Black Lives Matter through overt action. As James Baldwin once wrote, “civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” The world needs Harvard’s bold and proactive leadership now more than ever. Harvard Law School cannot wait for the next crisis. For years, Harvard Law School’s students have been demanding structural change to truly make Harvard Law School uphold its mission, “[t]o educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.” We reassert the demands of our predecessors.
Harvard Law School lags behind its peers. Our peer schools on Harvard’s campus, including the Kennedy School, School of Public Health, and Medical School, have offices of diversity or multicultural affairs that act as both liaisons and advocates for their students in addressing issues of diversity. Harvard Law School must demonstrate its commitment to racial justice and equality by establishing an independent Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Harvard must ensure a safe campus for all students. As such, Harvard must disclose and sever relationships with any and all law enforcement agencies. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and David McAtee, alongside the history of innumerable instances of police violence towards Black bodies, have made it clear that police reform is not enough. As an organization, we are concerned about the presence of the Harvard University Police Department at recent demonstrations protesting police brutality, and the message it sends to current students about how the school values their lives. At these protests, many police departments have responded with more police brutality, through use of weapons banned in war, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Police departments have become increasingly militarized, and Black communities suffer most. Service providers, such as mental health professionals and trauma-informed crisis intervention specialists, are better trained and more equipped to assist community members in times of need. Defunding police and re-directing those funds to investments in the Black community is essential.
The collective resources of individual members of our community merit at least a proportional response from our institution. Match student, postdoc, staff, and faculty donations by giving an equivalent or larger dollar amount to the Massachusetts Bail Fund, Violence in Boston, Black Lives Matter Boston, and the National Black Justice Coalition to support protesters and activists at the local and national level.
Harvard Law School must pledge not to punish, penalize, or burden students arrested or charged while participating in the current protests. Students standing against one of the most pervasive evils of our time is both a benefit to our community and to HLS as an institution.
The healthcare system’s inequities cannot be divorced from the impacts of structural racism (e.g. COVID-19). We call upon Harvard to hire more Black healthcare providers and providers of color, including mental health providers, and mandate all Harvard University Health and Services (HUHS) providers receive implicit bias training annually. If HUHS providers are already undergoing training, it must be revamped to ensure Black students and students of color receive quality care.
Harvard Law School holds a unique position as a premier legal institution that trains the next generation of the country’s most powerful decision-makers, including Presidents, District Attorneys, and judges. To truly prepare our students for success in a world turning towards justice, Harvard Law School has a responsibility to educate its students about how systems of power and privilege inform the experiences of Black people and marginalized communities. We call upon Harvard Law School to hire a tenured Critical Race Theorist, allocate its resources to establish an endowed Critical Race Theory Program, and commit to institutional support.
In 1992, Derrick Bell gave up his professorship and left Harvard in protest due to the dearth of Black professors. He understood, as we do, that Black faculty are essential for a dynamic and thriving educational environment. As has been established by numerous studies (Study 1; Study 2), Black faculty are fundamental to all student learning. Placing professors with diverse backgrounds in front of students at Harvard Laws School encourages the discussion of different views that shape the reasoning behind legal decisions and emphasizes the importance of different perspectives in developing the law. In this effort, Harvard Law School should mandate that all faculty searches have diverse candidates (racial and gender diversity). There are many Black professors and professors of color in the legal community. Find, hire, and retain more.
HBLSA agrees with President Bacow that, “those of us privileged to work or study at a place like [Harvard] bear special responsibilities.” As legal scholars, we know the devastating impacts of state-sanctioned violence and prison-industrial complex on Black communities and communities of color. Harvard should heed the demands of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (HPDC) and divest immediately.
We present this list of demands as a way for Harvard Law School to demonstrate that it is genuinely committed to creating a society that values and invests in Black Life. History has proven that when Harvard acts, other educational institutions follow. Act now.
Harvard Black Law Students Association