#HLSUntaped: Despite the Call to Be Silent, I’ve Decided to Scream

A week ago, someone put black tape over the portraits of African-American professors at Harvard Law School. The incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime, did not surprise or anger me. But the reaction of some professors and members of the administration to the student activism that followed the act has. The message imbedded in their op-eds and community meetings have been clear: students of color, keep silent. Your voice is not valued and your activism is not warranted.

Ironically, a black professor whose portrait was defaced has responded by using his words as a tool to silence students protesting racial apathy at HLS. In his recent op-ed, Professor Randall Kennedy asked dissidents (code word students of color) to tell him “with as much particularity as possible” why we feel “burdened, alienated, disrespected, oppressed.” Professor Kennedy categorized several concerns students raised as having a “ring of validity” but disregarded most as “dubious” and “exaggerating the scope of the racism that the activists oppose and fear.” By concluding that students are displaying “excessive vulnerability” and “nurturing an inflated sense of victimization” when we say we perceive racism in the way our classes fail to contextualize our legal education or when we use permanent marker to “x” out the Royall family crest on our HLS gear in a small act of rebellion against the visual embodiment of this institution’s legacy of slavery, Professor Kennedy proclaims our view of racism invalid and our proposals for change inadequate for the long-term. He re-categorizes our advocacy as an attempt to get attention instead of a call to have a real stake in identifying and addressing the problems around race that exist at HLS. Continue reading #HLSUntaped: Despite the Call to Be Silent, I’ve Decided to Scream

#HLSUntaped: The Sound of Silence

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Written in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, Simon and Garfunkel’s famous song, “The Sound of Silence” was rumored to describe Americans’ collective inability to communicate in the aftermath of that tragedy. Garfunkel later gave the song’s meaning as, “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.”

We’ve heard a lot of the sound of silence on campus recently. In the aftermath of the tape incident with the portraits, one part of the campus seethes in outrage whereas another part is afraid to say, “I think that the protestors are being a bit unreasonable.” They’re afraid of being called racist, insensitive, or bigoted. Because they are afraid, they do not say anything at all. Continue reading #HLSUntaped: The Sound of Silence

#HLS Untaped: Staff are organizing to fight racism at Harvard Law School

When I first started working at Harvard Law School, I had 13 stops. That’s how long it took to get from Ashmont Station, near my childhood home in Dorchester, to Harvard Square, where I had just accepted a job as a program assistant. Thirteen stops I had to convince myself that I belonged at the law school and that I had a place among the elite. Even today, a year later, I stop outside Wasserstein every morning, take a couple of deep breaths, and prepare to leave a part of myself on Massachusetts Avenue.

It’s my job as a staff member to serve the HLS community. I serve students their food, I process affidavit letters for alums, and I book professors’ rooms for meetings. But just because I serve  does not make me a servant. Many people at HLS understand this. But in an institution that has a strong caste system, with very few people of color at the top, it is inevitable that some individuals treat staff as the “other.” Continue reading #HLS Untaped: Staff are organizing to fight racism at Harvard Law School

#HLSUntaped: White Allies: Acknowledging Racism Is Not Enough

Last week, I found out that anonymous law students created a website criticizing me, Mawuse Hor Vormawor, and AJ Clayborne because we are members of Royall Must Fall.

This website is a reminder that overt racism and homophobia continue to exist at Harvard Law School. Our classmates claim that Mawuse, AJ, and I do not know how to read or write and that we were only admitted into Harvard because we are minorities who care about minority issues (the website “calls me out” for being gay and for being from Kentucky and Texas).

The website speaks for itself in urging us to do exactly the opposite of what its creators want: to confront and dismantle systemic racism that pervades our school and society. Tellingly, the website’s creators also ignore an important criticism against me: that I am a lifelong beneficiary of white supremacy. Continue reading #HLSUntaped: White Allies: Acknowledging Racism Is Not Enough

#HLSUntaped: Professor Kennedy: It’s About More Than Black Tape

On Friday, only two days after the Boston Globe released my op-ed to share one student’s perspective on racism at Harvard Law School, Professor Randall Kennedy used the power of his professorial platform to excuse it.

Despite admitting that he was so removed from campus that he was unaware of what minority students were facing (as further demonstrated by his need to poll students on their grievances), he nevertheless released his opinion to the New York Times. And, in doing so, he gave the country what it wanted to hear: today’s racism shouldn’t faze us. Continue reading #HLSUntaped: Professor Kennedy: It’s About More Than Black Tape

#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.
Continue reading #HLSUntaped: The Psychopathy of American Symbolism

Fenno’s Guide to Writing a Good Exam

Let me begin by saying that the “free press” in this country is a sham, and The Record is no exception. I recently submitted two pieces for publication in this paper: one, an exposé entitled “Time-Travelling SS Officers at Harvard” (with chilling video evidence), and the other, a detailed proposal for replacing the Harvard Law School crest with a picture of an orca devouring the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Both of these pieces were rejected by the Harvard Law Record Editorial Board, on the grounds that they were a) badly spelled and b) “not a constructive contribution to the serious conversations currently taking place on our campus.”

Rest assured that I will continue to speak out on these matters, regardless of what the Dean has to say about it (I don’t think she’s said anything yet, but in case she does), or the student-journalist junta that controls this so-called newspaper. However, in the interest of actually reaching my HLS readership this week, I’ve chosen a “safe” topic upon which to expound my wisdom: HOW TO WRITE A GOOD EXAM. Continue reading “Fenno’s Guide to Writing a Good Exam”

What Every Harvard Law Student Should Know About Juries

Juries are in crisis.  The jury trial exists today unloved, neglected, and largely avoided in legal practice.  Procedural barriers and civic apathy have combined to gut one of the central tenets of America’s constitutional structure.

The civil jury trial is dying.  In federal courts, less than 1% of civil cases are resolved before a jury.  In state courts, the percentage of jury trials is only slightly higher.  Lawyers can leave law school, make partner, and become a judge without ever trying a case before a jury.  Arbitration, mediation, and settlement dominate litigation practice.  Take a look at almost any long form contract (from your smartphone to your rental car agreement) and you (and everyone you know) likely will have signed away the right to a jury trial.  Fine print waivers have shifted a system of public justice to a process of private settlements.  And, even if you retain the right to sue, you still face daunting odds overcoming legal roadblocks (narrowed pleading and class action rules) and financial realities (lawyers cost more money than most law students can afford).  Going to trial is simply not an option for most individuals.  Continue reading “What Every Harvard Law Student Should Know About Juries”

What Every Harvard Law School Student Should Know About Appleseed

Among the many public service endeavors of Harvard Law School graduates, one lasting institution stands out:  Appleseed.  Recent Harvard Law School students may have seen the Appleseed conference room, on the fourth floor of Wasserstein Hall and wondered, what’s the Appleseed Foundation?

Appleseed is a network of 17 public interest justice centers in the United States and Mexico, with a national headquarters in Washington, DC.  At the 35th reunion for the Class of 1958, Ralph Nader, Ed Levin, Ralph Petersberger, Bert Pogrebin and other distinguished lawyers asked how they could make a lasting difference.  They didn’t do a day of service or make a huge reunion donation to the law school; rather, they decided to create a foundation whose mission would be to create other local institutions that would address systematic injustices…in short, to spread the seeds of justice, much as Johnny Appleseed planted apple orchards throughout the Ohio River Valley, Midwest and Canada. Continue reading “What Every Harvard Law School Student Should Know About Appleseed”

Record Retrospective: Obama on Affirmative Action

On December 9, the Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas to decide whether affirmative action is permissible under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

25 years ago today, President Barack Obama, then-President of the Harvard Law Review, wrote to the Record explaining and defending the Law Review’s affirmative action policy.

Review President Explains Affirmative Action Policy

To the Editor:

Since the merits of the Law Review’s selection policy has been the subject of commentary for the last three issues, I’d like to take the time to clarify exactly how our selection process works. Continue reading “Record Retrospective: Obama on Affirmative Action”

“Slave-Owning, Slave-Trading Murderers”: Students Call on Harvard Law School to Address Historical Ties to Slavery

You won’t go far at Harvard Law School without running into the Royalls.

In the Treasure Room of Langdell Library hangs a large portrait of the family of Isaac Royall, Jr. Each year, first-year Harvard Law School students sit together beneath this painting as they enjoy a welcome meal with the Dean. Isaac Royall is a figure intimately associated with the origins of Harvard Law School: in 1779, he donated lands to Harvard College whose sale endowed its first professorship of law. The Royall Professorship of Law is still held by a HLS faculty member, and the Royall family crest, bearing three sheaves of wheat, is currently part of the Harvard Law School crest. But the wealth that created Harvard Law School has a disturbing origin. The Royall family fortune was acquired through slavery: their sugar plantation was worked by slave labor, and they augmented their profits by shipping and selling human beings between Boston and Antigua.

Continue reading ““Slave-Owning, Slave-Trading Murderers”: Students Call on Harvard Law School to Address Historical Ties to Slavery”

Changing Our Approach to Climate: The Value of Fossil Fuel Divestment

It’s a problem we all recognize but fail to grasp: global emissions of CO2 are pushing humanity towards a post-civilization scenario. The latest science predicts a 160-foot foot sea level rise if humans burn all known oil, gas, and coal reserves. If fossil fuel companies continue to pursue business as usual for the next 35 years, global temperatures by 2050 will be 7°F higher than the preindustrial average. Just half that warming would likely trigger the melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, raising sea levels by 33 feet.

Continue reading “Changing Our Approach to Climate: The Value of Fossil Fuel Divestment”

What Every Harvard Law Student Needs to Know About Corporate Crime

When can a corporation be prosecuted for a crime?  One of the most remarkable stories in all of American criminal law is the recent rise of the corporate prosecutions.  From last week’s announcement of new Department of Justice policies on corporate prosecutions, to the billions of dollars of currency fixing settlements in prosecutions of major banks, to the campaign trail speeches of candidates calling for more prosecutions of bad corporate actors, to the concern that “too big to fail” institutions can avoid justice for the harm they caused to our economy, corporate crime has never been more central to the national debate.  It should be a greater part of the law school discussion too and there is wonderful work that law students can get involved in. Continue reading “What Every Harvard Law Student Needs to Know About Corporate Crime”

A Field Trip to the American Museum of Tort Law

The American Museum of Tort Law is the first law museum in North America of any kind.  It opened to the public on September 26, 2015.  That morning I drove to the gravel driveway of Hastings Dorm and picked up three Harvard Law Students: Pete Davis, Mike Shammas and Jake Sussman.  We were embarking on a law school field to check this museum out.  Throughout the country there are 35,000 museums dedicated to a variety of subjects, such as sports, UFO’s and blueberries, but not one is dedicated to the subject of law.  Given that America prides itself for being a country governed by the “rule of law”, it was about time a law museum made its way into the mix.  Maybe it took till 2015 to have a law museum because exhibiting the law is not intuitive.  Parchment behind Plexiglas will not draw many viewers.  Even hardcore law students would prefer to read a case on their MacBooks.  So how could this museum pull it off?  The four of us pondered this question as we drove to Winsted Connecticut, the location of the tort museum. Continue reading “A Field Trip to the American Museum of Tort Law”

Change the Culture

The rape trial of Owen Labrie opened a stunningly clear window into the culture of St. Paul’s. It’s a culture that I feel I know well. I know it because I went to Phillips Exeter Academy, which is part of that same coterie of prep schools, and my daughter went to St. Paul’s. Growing up in that culture, this is what I learned about gender relations: first base, second base, third base, homerun. The object was to score, to push against resistance, to overcome by whatever means.

Continue reading “Change the Culture”