The decades-long battles to get CRT, faculty of color, and students of color at HLS was led by students of color, namely the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). In the midst of national affirmative action litigation, BLSA, La Alianza, and the Third World Coalition carried on Bell’s charge. After years of negotiating with the HLS administration to provide a substantive curriculum on race and law and hire more faculty of color, the administration only offered a three-week J-term course. After boycotts, a school-wide referendum where over 75% of students supported these demands, and threats to sue HLS for discriminatory hiring practices failed, students walked out in front of Langdell Library. Joseph Garcia (’83), then-president of La Alianza, shared demands for more faculty and students of color and a course on race and the law (i.e., CRT).
In Spring 1983, a coalition of students, led by Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda, had enough and organized their own 14-week “Alternative Course” titled “Racism and the American Law” based on Bell’s textbook, Race, Racism, and American Law.  Organizers stated that the Alternative Course was the “affirmative vision of what a course which purports to address the needs of their communities can and should be.” With the financial support of student groups, the Alternative Course brought different scholars and practitioners to teach a different course each day. These instructors included Richard Delgado, Lizette Cantres (attorney at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Linda Greene, Neil Gotanda, Charles Lawrence, Denise Carty-Bennia, and Haywood Burns. The course was supported by Critical Legal Studies (“CLS”) professors like Duncan Kennedy, Morty Horowitz, and Jerry Frug who provided students with independent credits for taking the Alternative Course. The course “was designed both to show the HLS administration that talented and qualified minority legal scholars [did] exist and to enable interested students to learn about racism and the development of civil rights litigation.”
The course was immensely popular and demonstrated that the problem was not that there were no faculty of color or critical race theorists available but rather that HLS was acting as a gatekeeper, preventing qualified scholars of color and critical race theory from advancing. During and after the course, student organizers continued to engage with the HLS administration via public forums to get more faculty of color and a course on race and the law. Student frustration grew when, in response to a question about what faculty members were doing to educate themselves regarding the needs of minorities and women, Professor Philip Heymann stated, “No one ever told you to come to Harvard Law School to learn how to be a woman or to learn how to be a Black …. Those are terribly important things in life, but this isn’t the place for you to come learn them.” Student activism intensified. Then, in 1990, Derrick Bell took an unpaid leave, refusing to lecture again until HLS hired a black female professor. This act of resistance ultimately cost him his professorship because HLS failed to hire a black woman before Bell’s contract expired. Shortly thereafter, the HLS Coalition for Civil Rights in ‘89, made up of the affinity groups on campus, sued HLS claiming that HLS was engaging in discriminatory faculty hiring practices.
The Alternative Course was in many ways the first institutionalized expression of a CRT program at HLS. As a result of this organizing, students pursued careers as CRT scholars, lawyers, and activists fighting to dismantle systems of oppression. We recognize the labor that former and current HLS students and professors invested so that we could organize this conference this week. We recognize the successes achieved through years of HLS student activism: hiring the first black faculty member Derrick Bell in ‘69, founding the Latinx Law Review in ‘94, granting tenure to the first woman of color Lani Guinier in ‘98, removing a slaveholder’s crest from the HLS seal in 2016, and securing a memorial in 2017 in honor of African-Americans whose enslavement enabled the foundation and wealth of HLS.