Letter to the Editor: A response to my venerable teachers

On Monday a group of HLS Professors published a letter criticizing Reclaim Harvard Law’s recent protest of Dean Minow’s administration. I admit I was pleased and surprised to see a response from some HLS Faculty. To a great extent most Professors at the school have either been unfairly dismissive or entirely silent about our movement. I was also pleased to hear that the Professors are “proud of the activism, motivation and goals underlying Reclaim Harvard Law School”. Yet, although my surprise did not come without a degree of pleasure, this momentary gratification was all too quickly replaced by disappointment. I was expecting some discussion of the article I published a few weeks ago explaining our protest action. The article addresses many of the criticisms that the Professors raise, including the accusation that we “[fail] to acknowledge the enormous contributions that Dean Minow has made in the past – and continues to make today – in furtherance of the very issues of social justice that motivate Reclaim Harvard Law School’s efforts.” Indeed, in my article I titled an entire section “Reclaim’s Debt to the Dean” and pointed out how Reclaim and Dean Minow apparently have quite similar aims.

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The Strange Administration of Martha Minow

Last week a group of students and I from Reclaim HLS travelled to Brandeis University to stage a protest during an award ceremony for Dean Minow. She was receiving the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize which is “presented annually to a person whose body of published work reflects scholarly excellence and makes a lasting contribution to racial, ethnic or religious relations.” With the love and support of the tireless activists of Ford Hall 2015, we called out the Dean’s hypocritical tendency to “talk justice, but do injustice.” Recently, reactions to this protest have expressed “sadness” and “confusion.” Our critics seem to think that we are unaware of Dean Minow’s scholarship and her contributions to the legal field in advancing the causes of gender and racial equality. Yet we did not protest in ignorance. Indeed, we protested precisely because we are intimately acquainted with her work.

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The Myth of the Neutral Center

Recently, Mike Shammas, Editor-in-Chief of The Record, wrote an article declaiming the present state of democratic discourse. His targets ranged from Donald Trump and his supporters to “student protesters”:

We see [the death of ‘productive discourse’] in Donald Trump’s xenophobia. We see it in the smug rise of a regressive, illiberal “liberalism” on college campuses that interprets (and misinterprets) the other side’s words in the most negative possible light—even trifling dissent is labeled a product of white male privilege or (when the opponent is neither white nor male) simple ignorance. We see it in any online comments section—cesspools of racism, sexism, xenophobia, naked hatred. At its most extreme, we see it in tribalistic mass murderers, from Dylann Storm Roof to the San Bernardino shooters.

Shammas is not the only person to make comparisons like this. Bill Maher recently compared student protesters at Yale to Ammon Bundy and his followers, who have occupied a federal building in Oregon. The argument here is familiar: The times are simply too contentious and emotionally overwrought; what is needed is calm, rational debate. Consideration must be accorded to both sides in a deliberate manner. Only such a cordial, empathetic debate can rescue our glorious republic from certain doom.

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New Seal, New Century

In 2017 Harvard Law School will enter its third century as an elite institution that educates the leaders of American law and policy. As always, this period of transition offers a risk and an opportunity. Will the law school continue to perpetuate systemic racism and inequality? Or will it choose to fulfill its mission to “educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice”?

Recent events suggest that there may be reason to be hopeful. The law school has convened a committee to decide whether to recommend that the crest of the law school be changed. Dean Minow has announced that a climate survey will investigate some matters of inclusion in the Spring. Yet these small concessions represent only very minor victories and are certainly incommensurate with the herculean efforts of students on campus who have demanded major systemic changes to the law school. Continue reading “New Seal, New Century”

#HLSUntaped: The Psychopathy of American Symbolism

On October 20th, 2014 Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black Chicago citizen was killed by Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. By now many of us have seen the disturbing video. This homicide has sparked a great deal of controversy in Chicago, but here I focus on what Van Dyke’s actions reveal about his mindset and its relationship to the racialized culture of American psychopathy. What could cause a police officer to value a life so little that he would murder a teenager who was simply walking past him? The answer lies closer to home than many of us realize.

No one disputes that advertisements can be a powerful tool to mobilize a populace. Car companies know that their advertisements are not going to convince you to go out and buy a car every single time they run an ad. The point of that ad is to induce you to remember their product when you need a car. In other words car companies rely on planting stories or images in your mind which cause you to modify your behavior in the future. Racism in this country works in a similar manner. Mythology justifying the subjugation of Blacks is a national advertising tradition in this country. Every symbol carries with it a story of how black Americans are worth less than white Americans.
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