Censorship at Harvard Law

There has been a lot of discussion about last week’s events between me, my posting in Belinda Hall / Wasserstein Lounge, and Reclaim Harvard Law’s reaction.  I’m not proud of everything I did, but I do hope that by laying out the facts, as I saw them, I will clear up some of the misconceptions that have arisen. My one, self-imposed limitation is that I will not name the other students involved in these events.

My story starts on Monday, March 28, at approximately 11:00 a.m. As many of you know, a group of protestors calling themselves “Reclaim Harvard Law” has been occupying the lounge in Wasserstein Hall since February, renaming the location “Belinda Hall” and putting up a flurry of signs, posters, and fliers in support of various aspects of their movement.

I have been a very vocal critic of certain aspects of the campaign, especially the demands that I believed would severely infringe on academic freedom. I was also deeply troubled by the motivating ideology of Reclaim Harvard Law, Critical Race Theory, insofar as I strongly disagreed with the more radical strains of Critical Race Theory that I believed would lead to an increase in racially-based legal discrimination.

Timeline of Events
Monday March 28, 11:00 a.m. I begin to put up my first anti-Reclaim posters, “Reclaim = Trump: Both Support a Racist Ideology, Both Support Censorship of Dissent.” I post these on empty spaces in Belinda Hall/Wasserstein Lounge
Poster Images: http://imgur.com/LzSSufW
Monday March 28, 11:10-11:55 After putting up the posters, I discuss with Reclaim students about why I put them up and what my message is. The conversation is tense but civil. One student mentions that the Trump posters might have to be removed.
Monday, March 28, 1:00 p.m I receive word from a friend that the Trump section of the posters has been removed.
Monday, March 28, 1:45 p.m. I receive an email asking me to have a meeting with the Dean of Students that day.
Monday, March 28, 2:50 I meet with Dean Sells. Dean Sells explains how putting up a Trump sign could be seen as an offensive attack on certain students. She analogizes it to how putting up a sign that says “Reclaim = Hitler” might be offensive to Jews.

Dean Sells confirms that the students, not the administration, took down the sign. She adds that I cannot put up campaign fliers for 501(c)(3) purposes, but that other signs are allowed.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Dean Sells’ statement that allowing me to post a “Trump” sign in this context would jeopardize the school’s 501(c)(3) status turns out to be highly inaccurate:



Tuesday, March 29, 11:00 a.m. I get a text from a friend stating that all of my posters have been removed from the hall, not just those with reference to Trump.

Total signs removed by Reclaim: 16 (Four sets of four fliers each)

Tuesday, March 29, 11:00 a.m. I arrive and put up a second round of posters, this time making no mention of any political candidate, in line with the Dean of Student’s requirements.
Tuesday, March 29, 11:10 a.m. A Reclaim Harvard Law student confronts me, and explains that there is a process that all posters in Belinda Hall must be approved by Reclaim Harvard’s plenary, and that all non-approved posters will be removed. I explain that she has no right to do that. I continue to post my fliers.

Poster Images: http://imgur.com/68BLamr

Tuesday, March 29, 11:10 a.m. Reclaim Harvard students remove my second round of fliers. As my friend asks why they are doing that, one responds, “Because it’s offensive.” My friend responds that some Reclaim posters offend him, but he is not taking them down.

“Oh, the eggshell white male!” the Reclaim student says, and proceeds to say that white males are overly sensitive and can’t stand criticism. The rest of the signs are removed.

Total signs removed by Reclaim: 36 (Four additional sets of five fliers each)


Wednesday, March 30, 10:50 a.m. I arrive at Belinda Hall/Wasserstein Lounge and begin to put up posters again.

Poster Images: http://imgur.com/yer4jN0

Wednesday, March 30, 11:20 a.m. As the signs are being removed, my friend films as one student begins to tear down the sign. The film is later put up, with the faces blurred.

Total signs removed by Reclaim: 56 (Four additional sets of five fliers each)

Wednesday, March 30, 12:30 p.m. I email Dean Minow, Dean of the Law School, and Dean Sells, detailing what has occurred over the last several days and asking for recourse. I  ask that they take some action.
Wednesday, March 30, 4:30 p.m. I meet with Dean Sells and tell her about what has happened. She tells me that she will talk to Reclaim leaders about it and tell them not to remove the signs. Dean Sells tells me that she will talk to the students that I mentioned about it.


Thursday, March 31, 10:50 a.m. I begin posting my fourth set of fliers. Before I am finished posting my fliers, a student begins removing them from the wall. The student says that Dean Sells had told him nothing, and continues to remove the fliers.

Images: http://imgur.com/egy4ki4

Total signs removed by Reclaim: 68 (Four additional sets of three fliers each)

Thursday, March 31, 10:50 a.m. The Record publishes the article on Reclaim removing posters.
Thursday, March 31, 4:30 p.m. I start getting words of other students also posting signs critical of Reclaim in the Halls. I am informed that they are also removed.

Image of removed posters: http://imgur.com/mLH4QHj

Thursday, March 31, 5:30 p.m. A member of the faculty emails me to say that there has been an administrative meeting and asks to meet with me to discuss the situation. I am told that the administration plans to put out a statement reaffirming the school’s commitment to free speech.


Friday, April 1, 11:40 a.m. The Record publishes a Message from Reclaim Harvard Law addressing the controversy.
Friday, April 1, 11:45 a.m. Dean Minow sends out a campus wide email to “reaffirm our commitment to the values of free exchange and free speech for all members of the Law School community.”
Friday, April 1, 2:00 p.m. I arrive at Belinda Hall and begin once again to put up my posters. This time, the hall is divided between “Silenced” and “Privileged” zones. Those signs that I post on the “Silenced” side are removed to the “Privileged” side by Reclaim.

Dean Sells is present to witness this. When I appeal to her that Reclaim students are moving my signs, she says, “Well, they’re still up, aren’t they?”

Additional videos are made of the removals

Images of Posters: http://imgur.com/qQb3OOU

Images of Separating Wall: http://imgur.com/ysQn6Ut


Saturday, April 2, 9:42 a.m. Reclaim tweets pictures of two of their posters being defaced by the words, “stop censorship.”
Saturday, April 2 At the same time, I begin to notice Reclaim’s Twitter feed taking an odd, Orwellian turn.  They retweet, “‘Free Speech’ is nothing but a shield used to protect ideas that contribute to the harming of the oppressed” and a follow-up tweet, “What is it [Free Speech] doing to eliminate prejudice except protecting the rights of the bigoted to spread hate speech.”

Reclaim also retweets a link to an article by the New Society arguing for “Abridging the Freedom of Speech.”

Saturday, April 2, 3:37 p.m. Having heard of the defacing of Reclaim’s signs, I post the following:

We don’t know who did this, but acts of defacement are never acceptable, even if the victims don’t abide by the same standards. From the HLS guideline on protest and dissent:

“Using or threatening force or violence, such as defacing a sign or assaulting a speaker or a member of the audience, is never permitted.”

Saturday, April 2, 8:34 p.m. Dean Sells sends out an additional email, stating that, “The Dean’s statement yesterday made clear that defacing a sign posted by another is in the same category as removing or moving someone else’s sign. The wall space in the lounge is to be shared, on equal terms, by all members of our community. Matters are being referred to the Administrative Board as appropriate.”


Monday, April 4, morning I decide not to post additional fliers, feeling that my work is done, now that my fliers remain posted.
Monday, April 4, evening After some consideration, the blurred videos of students removing signs are taken down.

Some personal thoughts:

A lot has been said of my motivations with putting up my posters in the first place. I have been accused of desecrating Belinda Hall, bullying, vandalism, and, of course, supporting white supremacy. I was also accused of posting a Trump sign because there was a Muslim Law Student Association Event that day — an event I had no clue about. I want to make one thing absolutely clear: my resistance to Reclaim is born out of a disgust of its ideology, not its people. I believe that the ideology and certain of the goals of Reclaim are utterly at odds with the core values of free speech and academic freedom.

Reclaim has demanded “cultural competency trainings” for professors and 1Ls, “a full and equal seat at the table for all discussions and decisions on curricular changes” among other things. These are the “first steps to making HLS the inclusive, diverse community that we all want it to be.” This last week has exposed exactly what sort of community Reclaim wants to have, and it has nothing to do with either inclusion or diversity. It was under the auspices of creating the “office of diversity of inclusion” that last week’s censorship was carried out.

There is also a certain hypocrisy surrounding issues of race. Again and again, the color of my skin was made an issue by Reclaim. Call me a bigot, if you like. Call me a racist. But what does the color of my skin have to do with any of this? “White man desecrates #BelindaHall” Reclaim tweeted. “You eggshell white male,” a Reclaim student mocked my friend as she took my posters down.   “We have prevented this particular white man from putting up offensive posters,” Reclaim wrote in its Record message to the Harvard Law community.

It reminds me of the quote posted on my very first flier. “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Editor’s Note: This is an op-ed by Bill Barlow and, accordingly, his account has not been meticulously fact-checked by the Record.

(Visited 2,767 times, 20 visits today)