Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more information comes in.
Sometime during the early hours of Thursday morning, portraits of black Harvard Law professors hanging in the faculty gallery in Wasserstein Hall were defaced by an unknown individual. Black strips of tape were placed across the faces of the portraits. The vandalism was discovered by students arriving for morning classes. “This is a hate crime,” one student said. “I’m calling the police.”
The pieces of tape were removed shortly after the police completed their examination of the scene.
This incident comes one day after a number of Harvard students held walk-outs and protests in solidarity with student movements at Yale, the University of Missouri, and other universities, calling for policies that foster greater racial inclusivity and awareness on college campuses.
Members of Harvard Law School’s “Royall Must Fall” movement also recently staged an “educational art action” to promote their campaign to change the Harvard Law School crest, which bears the family insignia of 18th-century slave trader Isaac Royall. This protest consisted of placing black tape in an X formation over the Royall insignia on several images of the crest on the law school campus. Members of Royall Must Fall have stated that they are “saddened and disgusted by this violent act against black professors,” and they believe tape used in the educational art action was subsequently used to deface the portraits.
The HLS student government convened a community-wide meeting at noon in Wasserstein Hall to discuss the vandalism. The meeting was attended by hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and administrators, including Dean Martha Minow and Dean of Students Marcia Sells. Many students described feelings of fear, anger, and frustration at seeing the defaced images, as well as a sense of disjunction between the administrative practices of the university and the needs of students. Discussion focused on topics such as students’ desire for a separate office of Diversity & Inclusion to better address the needs of minority students, the importance of recruiting a more diverse faculty, and the need for a deliberate discussion of the interaction between race and law in the 1L curriculum. A frequently-reiterated theme of the conversation was a desire for substantive change and “action,” rather than “talk.”
In the hours following the incident, many Harvard Law students responded by placing personal notes beside portraits of black faculty, expressing appreciation for their pedagogy, scholarship, and character.
According to Dean Martha Minow, Harvard police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Pictures of the incident, and some students’ responses to the incident, are below: