Letter to the Editor: A Response to Reclaim HLS’s Message to the Community

Recent events of censorship on campus are deeply troubling. As a proud liberal and holder of multiple minority identities, I have been embarrassed this year by a small group of students hijacking progressive values and using bullying, exclusion, and heckling to achieve progress. I am no longer of the opinion that these students want equality. They seem to want to put their own views, agenda and identities above the diversity this community represents.

Any time the occupiers violate school rules, they invent creative names for their activities. Defacing school property with black tape in the Fall was “Art.” Posters in the fireside lounge are nothing more than a “Decorating Policy.” An occupation of the most-used common space is an “Office of Diversity,” an odd misnomer for a space that rejects diversity. The occupiers, through their beliefs regarding school rules and free speech, have become a law unto themselves.

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A Message from Reclaim Harvard Law

#MoreSpeech

Posted below is some information about Reclaim Harvard Law, taken from our website. As you can see, we have been modeling our own Office of Diversity and Inclusion, one small space in the law school for marginalized students inspired by the school’s total failure to create any such space. In the past few days, a person who has been outspokenly opposed to our fight for racial justice from the beginning has been putting up deliberately provocative posters in our space. After extensive debate, we determined that, while all are welcome to engage with us, and we have repeatedly invited this particular individual to do so, a model of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion would certainly put up posters and information about its mission and values, but would retain control over its own decorating policy to maintain a space that reflects its values. We do not believe that free speech is implicated here (we are a group choosing what to post in its own space, without any institutional, let alone governmental, support, and there are countless other – white – spaces on the campus in which this individual can express his views, and has). However, notably, the idea that we have prevented this particular white man from putting up offensive posters in this particular space has created attention and outrage that our own claims to suppressed speech and silencing have not. This is not the first time that supposedly neutral principles of free speech have been invoked to protect white privilege – our fight is to make it the last. We have been told that the way to fight speech is with more speech. It should be obvious to everyone that this is not a level playing field, but nevertheless we are taking this advice, and will expand our campaign to spread the voices of the marginalized and the silenced throughout Harvard Law School. We wish Harvard Law School would be on the side of the oppressed and the marginalized, but can hope for no more than that it will maintain its studied neutrality.  #MoreSpeech

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Letter to the Editor: Belinda Sutton, not Royall

The “Belinda” of “Belinda Hall” fame was named Belinda Sutton. Although she appears in her most well-known 1783 petition as “Belinda” and as “Belinda Royal” in two document in 1785,  “Sutton” was her married name, as a later petition in 1788 indicates. It has long been known that enslaved people did not always take the last names of their enslavers, and many had their own last names.  “Belinda Sutton” is the only name that we can say that she, in any way, chose. Therefore, it is proper and respectful to call her by her real name. I brought this to the attention of the Royall House, and they agree wholeheartedly with me, and will use Belinda Sutton from now on. The changes are already reflected on their website.

Annette Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School.

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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Letter to the Editor: Harvard Law School and Corporation flunk history

The Harvard Corporation has endorsed the Law School’s wish to withdraw its sheaves-of-wheat seal. The seal is now damned as derived from the family crest of the father of the School’s early benefactor, Isaac Royall, Jr., an 18th-century slave-owner. In justifying its decision, the Corporation abuses historical reasoning. “When the shield was adopted [in 1936],” the Corporation notes, no “attention was given to the prospect that its imagery might evoke associations with slavery—a circumstance that, if recognized at the time, would quite likely have led to a different choice” (my emphases). In short, the Royall emblem became the Law School’s seal because its adopters back in 1936 lacked the anti-racist awareness of 2016. Had those old-timers been more alert, it is speculated, they would have behaved better—that is, like the Law School’s later-day saints—and rejected the seal. This wishful thinking echoes the classicist Benjamin Jowett’s Victorian faith that apparent homosexuality in Plato’s Phaedrus was really heterosexual; Plato’s lovely youths were actually young women, and had he “lived in our times he would have made the transposition himself.”

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Letter to the Editor: Faculty members unfairly dismiss Reclaim HLS

On March 21, the Record published an open letter from seven faculty members attacking Reclaim Harvard Law School for unreasonably criticizing HLS Dean Martha MinowBelow is a response to that letter.

I find it troubling that a group of faculty would endorse a letter filled with the very errors they spend so much time encouraging students to correct. We are taught not to make unsubstantiated claims, but instead to connect claims with evidence, and to demonstrate logically how the evidence supports our conclusion.

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An Open Letter to the Harvard Law School Community

As members of the law faculty, we have all been proud of the activism, motivation and goals underlying Reclaim Harvard Law School. We fully support the University’s decision to retire the Law School’s Shield containing the Royall Crest, and acknowledge that this result would never have occurred were it not for the actions of Reclaim Harvard Law School and other individual students and groups who have pressed the school to face up to this part of its history.

But it is equally clear that the school would not have been able to achieve this important goal without the leadership of Dean Martha Minow. Which is why we believe that it is both wrong and counterproductive that some members of the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement and other individuals and organizations have singled Dean Minow out for such sharp and unfair criticism.

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Letter to the editor: “Talking past each other” doesn’t go far enough

To the editor:

I was greatly heartened by Jim An’s “Talking past each other.” I agree we tend to talk past each other rather than respectfully engaging each other’s “actually held concerns” with humility. However, An did not go far enough in the critique – he did not recognize that the communication mode he advocates could itself be wrong. I’m sure I was not the only one cringing at the contrast between the respectful humility he advocates and the condescending tone taken toward the offending student. There are divisions in our country over abortion, climate change, and race. However we are also divided over how to discuss these topics – just look at the many articles (including in the Record) on both sides of the issue on political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and free speech on campus. If we believe deeply in the benefit of conversing with good faith and humility, I believe we can even apply this method to the conversation about how to converse … but I might be wrong.
Best,
Amy

Amy Gilson is a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University.

A Response to “The Least Safe Space”

Editor’s note: This was submitted as a response to a recent op-ed entitled “The Least Safe Space.” You can find that article in full here.

In “The Least Safe Space”, Josh Craddock asserts his belief that life begins at conception. That belief is true because it is what he believes. That is acceptable. And he can champion his position from his moral framework. 

What is unacceptable is his, and the editorial staff’s, misunderstanding of the scientific data used to support the author’s belief. As a research scientist, I am disturbed by the blending of poorly cited facts and moral opinion that characterize this article. It is symptomatic of a larger trend in scientific reportage and opinion that use the authoritative weight of apparently scientific data to hide a blatantly moral perspective. It is this cocktail of fact and opinion that continues to confuse the lay-public on topics ranging from climate change to the health benefits of the latest miracle diet.

There is no scientific consensus on when life begins. The author cites an American Medical Association report from 1859 and the author seems to believe that report is immutable and continues to be the consensus. The AMA currently takes no position on when life begins. Continue reading “A Response to “The Least Safe Space””

Letter to the Editor: The Belinda Bullies

Editor’s Note: The Editor, Michael Shammas, wrote a response to this piece. You can read his response here.

Dear Editor,

While I have limited objection to the Committee decision to recommend the modification of the HLS shield, I have difficulty treating the decision-making process as legitimate given its broader social context, regardless of (true) protestations to the contrary. But the shield is ultimately not a significant concern of mine. Far more concerning are the broader implications of the insurgency which has essentially forced the Committee’s hand, and the mushrooming[1] of similar insurrections in the haloed halls of this nation’s “academic” institutions.

I am all too familiar with social settings dominated by dogma. The shadowy feeling out for intellectual comrades, the tentative sharing of fringe opinions and careful observance of elicited reactions. The relief when one finds such comrades, and the fear when you’ve misjudged and shared too much. Most of my intellectual development took place in such a dogmatic context. When I came to Harvard, I came expecting an exciting intellectual journey in a more honest environment. But alas, all too frequently I experience myself in a church masquerading as an academic institution. The canon of principles making up church dogma. The certitude of conviction as to what is just and what is good, as if God himself has manifested so in the Wasserstein Revelation. The lip service commitments to ideals like diversity, another naked emperor clothed by a delusion quickly dispelled by one wrong comment in a class. The snickers and smirks of impartial professors and obsequious students describing “other” views condemned by history, willfully ignorant of the likelihood that they too will be condemned by history.

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Letter to the Editor: We must solve our own problems first

To the editor:

When the pressure drops in the cabin of an airplane, we are instructed to first put our own masks before reaching out to help those next to us. The lesson we are supposed to learn from this is simple: If we want to help others we must first ensure that we are in a safe space. The world is in turmoil. Currently today there are an estimated 20,900,000 people living in slavery[1], over 5,000,000 more than the amount of slaves that crossed the Atlantic Ocean[2]. 5% of the world’s cotton is picked by slaves in Uzbekistan[3], Nestlé uses child slaves to make its candy bars[4], and more likely than not all our cellphones contain metals that were mined by slaves in the DR Congo[5].

Before we can address any of those issues we must first put on our own mask, so that we can breathe easy in a safe space. We must create a school where all can go to class without worrying about other people making judgements about our character simply because of the way we look. We must allow our students to take classes that aren’t currently offered here, but that they want to take. We must remove all symbols of past slavery at our school, so that we once and for all can learn in a comfortable environment.

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HLS Took a Stand for Palestine Programming; Students Must Now Bear the Cost: The Story They Don’t Want You to Hear About What Happened to Milbank Funding

We have a confession to make. We, Harvard Law School’s Justice for Palestine (JFP), are the organization responsible for the highly controversial pizza order that cost the law school (and its students) an annual $250,000 in funding for student activities.

For the uninitiated, the “Milbank Tweed Student Conference Fund” (or Milbank Fund, named after the multinational law firm that endowed it), was established in 2012 to support the activities of student-run organizations at Harvard Law School. The Dean of Students office allocates the funds through an open application process. As part of the arrangement, Milbank Fund recipients are required to recognize the contribution by ensuring that all promotional materials for Milbank-funded programming include at least one reference indicating Milbank as a headlining sponsor.

At the start of this semester, HLS announced, without explanation, the sudden termination of the Milbank Fund. We are writing today so that the record may reflect that the termination of the Milbank Fund is, in fact, completely our fault.

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An Open Letter to the Dean

Dear Dean Minow,

I write to you as a member of the Student Government at HLS. The reasons for this open letter are two-pronged. The immediate point relates to the lack of accountability on part of the officers of the Student Government. The long-term one concerns the institutional integrity and place of the Student Government, as an effective channel of communication between the student body and the administration.

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Letter to the Editor: In Response to “On the HLS Crest”

To the editor:

On December 11, The Record published a letter to the editor called “On the HLS Crest,” which begins:

“All peoples throughout history have held other humans as slaves . . . . Purging the Royall crest of waving wheat does not eliminate slavery or hate.”

The argument in the letter is that slavery is ever present, that everyone makes mistakes, and that changing the crest is to “stomp down the good act of someone long dead who may have owned slaves.”

The letter proceeds by making sweeping statements, intended to minimize the evil of any one slaveholder’s actions, to erase the unequal impact of slavery, and to chastise those who wish to change the shield for their lack of mercy and gratefulness.

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Letter to the Editor: On the HLS Crest

All peoples throughout history have held other humans as slaves.  They do so even today in many other countries and other cultures.  Species oppression, in the way the term is being used today at HLS,  predates the first Homo sapiens sapiens.  Let HLS not be myopic or narcissistic.  Purging the Royall crest of waving wheat does not eliminate slavery or hate, cannot change the rampant slavery that exists even today in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and will not purify HLS of an American past where slavery was once legal.

The line into the past, and into past slavery, the line of humans oppressing other humans, is a line that never stops.  It can never be traced to a single seminal beginning.  We all have slave forebears.  This truth of universal slavery and oppression, of the dreadful way that people can treat each other, is why keeping the crest on the HLS seal is the only right act that has any possibility of affirming good and changing the cycle of millennia. Continue reading “Letter to the Editor: On the HLS Crest”