Call To Conscience: An Open Letter to Dean Clark and Dean Rakoff
Belief in the ideals of Harvard Law School – the power of rules, reason, persuasion, diversity, and equity – has endowed BLSA with patience during these recent and previous eruptions of anti-Black harassment. However, in the face of your administration’s inadequate response to these events and this systemic problem in the HLS community, BLSA has lost its patience. We now express our frustration with your indifference to the needs of Black law students in crisis. Both of you have communicated with the Law School and the media by press release, but have not once reached out to BLSA directly. Racial harassment is not a matter of damage control or public relations, but a call for leadership. It is the duty of this administration to set a responsible institutional tone of civility, decency, and respect for minorities. No more racial harassment. No more intimidation.
We also write to preserve a record of these incidents and the administration’s willful inaction.
Individual students have met with Dean of Students Richardson on several occasions to discuss this crisis. She is genuine, concerned, and perhaps a friend to BLSA. However, we fear that you, as the ultimate leadership of the Law School, have been fugitives in this crisis, exploiting Richardson as a gatekeeper for the concerns of disconcerted Black students. BLSA students have grown tired of waiting at the gate. Enough of the hypocrisy, public contrition, and private insensitivity. It is time for you to speak directly to the Black community at HLS.
BLSA demands that you fulfill the responsibilities of your offices and take meaningful action with respect to the following disturbing incidents of racial harassment.
- March 7: In an outline posted on HL Central, a 1L described Shelley v. Kraemer, which helped end restrictive racial covenants, as follows: “Nigs buy land w/ no nig covenant; Q: Enforceable?” The student attached the disclaimer: “offensive racial shorthand is used.” After a Black 1L complained, the administration confronted the author of the outline, who claimed that he was unaware that the material was offensive. Black students who complained about the outline received angry, intimidating emails from other students. One email from a user named “gcrocodile” read:
We are at the Harvard Law School, a free, private community where any member wishing to use the word “nigger” in any form should not be prevented from doing so…. Shame on you! You have done a great disservice both to HLS and to the African-American community. If you, as a race, want to prove that you do not deserve to be called by that word, work hard and you will be recognized…. as a result of your complaint I have actually began [sic] using the “nigger” word more often than before the incident.
- March 13: Professor David Rosenberg told his torts class: “Feminism, Marxism, and the Blacks” have contributed nothing to torts, and (to him) torts is the world. Noting that Rosenberg mentioned two ideologies and a race as contributing nothing to the world, a Black 1L asked him to clarify his point. Rosenberg repeated the statement twice to the class. Rosenberg has never apologized.
- March 13: A Black 1L entered the Legal Aid Bureau to request a membership application. A Bureau member, mistaking her for a client, proclaimed: “This is not how we work here! This is not the process if you need legal aid!” An accompanying friend explained that the Black 1L was a student seeking an application, but the Bureau member stormed off. Humiliated, the 1L left the building. The Bureau sent apologies to BLSA members and the individual student. Nevertheless, members of Legal Aid claim that the Bureau has failed to institute any significant internal changes. Several Bureau members, including students of color, intend to quit in frustration.
- April 2: Someone deposited copies of a flyer containing hate speech in Section 4 Hark boxes. In an email to his entire section, a student publicly claimed that Black students should be considered prime suspects. He volunteered his fingerprints to the Harvard Police and asked that “any students in our section, AS WELL AS THE BLSA MEMBERS, interested in clearing themselves … should do the same” (emphasis in original email).
- April 3: When concerned students uncovered gcrocodile’s identity as a fellow Section 4 student, Professor Charles Nesson announced, in another professor’s class, that he would represent the student in a mock trial to be held during his Torts class. Students responded with outrage that a professor would choose to take sides, even if only in the interest of the “adversarial process,” and make a public spectacle of such a sensitive issue. The administration has taken no action with regards to Nesson’s conduct. (Last semester, Nesson cast a student version of “The West Wing at Harvard Law School” in his Evidence class, a parody of the NBC drama. Nesson suggested having a white student play Dean Clark in Blackface, as a joke. “Bob Clark,” he wrote in an email to the class, “is miscast as Bartlett. Ogletree plays Bartlett, Bob plays Charley in Blackface. Now that’s getting to be parody.”)
This is not a free speech issue. Racial harassment has everything to do with basic human decency and little to do with free speech or feel-good political correctness. BLSA supports free speech. Indeed, we are now making use of it.
Several progressive professors and students of all races have expressed outrage at these incidents and the administration’s apathy. This is to the credit of the Harvard Law School community. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the administration shares this moral outrage to the extent that meaningful action, and not just public statements, is warranted.
BLSA therefore finds it necessary to inform alumni, media, donors, incoming students, politicians, and members of the Civil Rights Movement of these shocking incidents at Harvard Law School. BLSA believes that only grass-roots pressure and national public scrutiny – if not embarrassment – will make this administration accountable to its Black students.
We demand that Dean Clark and Dean Rakoff do the following:
1. Address BLSA, in person, about these issues.
2. Allow BLSA representatives to present our demands, in person, at the faculty meeting on May 8, 2002.
3. Institute a policy, applying to both students and professors, banning racial harassment analogous to the School’s sexual harassment policy.
4. Create an Office of Multicultural Aff-airs, with a full-time staff person, solely dedicated to dealing with issues of racial harassment and providing diversity training.
5. Form a committee that includes BLSA and other affinity group representatives, faculty, a diversity consultant, trained negotiators, and Deans Clark and Rakoff to devise a plan for the creation of this office.
6. Prevent Professors Nesson and Ros-enberg from teaching first-year classes and publicly reprimand them in the Harvard Law Bulletin and Harvard Crimson.
7. Take appropriate administrative act-ion against the authors of the offensive outline and the flyer containing hate speech.
8. Require professors, Deans, and incoming students to attend training addressing tolerance in the classroom and academic debate without racial insensitivity.
9. Require Legal Aid to publicize their strategy for remedying their diversity problems and for respectful treatment of their clients of color.
-The membership of the Black Law Students’ Association
Narrow debate worse than no debate at all
In a March 20, 2002 meeting, Justice for Palestine considered Professor Dershowitz’s invitation to debate the merits of the proposal he laid out in his Jerusalem Post article, which prompted JFP to protest outside Dershowitz’s class. At that meeting, the group reached a consensus that such a debate would be both misguided and un
We believe that a debate regarding the merits of destroying entire Palestinian villages frames the question in a narrow and dehumanizing way. The question would be too narrow because it does not address larger issues of Israeli occupation and Palestinian dispossession. The question would be dehumanizing because the very act of questioning whether entire villages should be destroyed starts, we believe, from a premise that Palestinian life is less important than other lives. We believe that it is unthinkable for a Harvard Law professor to call for the destruction of Irish, Basque, Philippine or Kurdish villages. That a debate regarding the destruction of Palestinian villages is suggested indicates that Palestin-ians, once again, are not afforded the same dignity as other humans.
We understand that Prof. Dershowitz believes that there is more to his proposal than a call for the destruction of villages; however, it is undeniable that the driving force behind his proposal, and the reason for our protests, is the unethical call for the destruction of villages. (We do offer to individually discuss the matter with Prof. Dershowitz or any other interested party.)
We decided not to debate Dershowitz’s proposal in large part because affording a public forum for his extremist proposal would lend it a legitimacy it does not deserve. It saddens and shocks us that, only days after this decision, the present government in Israel is following an equally destructive course of action.
Najeeb KhouryPresident, Justice for Palestineand the membership of Justice for Palestine