When students and faculty arrived at Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall Thursday morning, they found a disturbing sight. On a wall of portraits of the law school’s tenured faculty, black tape had been placed over each of the African American faculty members.
A second-year student called the tape “a hate crime” in a widely shared Blavity post that included pictures of the portraits. Dean Martha Minow said that racism is a “serious problem” at the school. Police say they are investigating.
The tape isn’t a non sequitur. As activism has swept college campuses, Harvard Law students have been mounting a charge against the school’s crest. The emblem is taken from the Royall family, whose scion Isaac Royall Jr. endowed its first law professorship. The Royalls were also major slaveholders on Antigua, profiting handsomely from it before moving to the North American colonies, bringing some slaves with them. According to a statement from Royall Must Fall, the group campaigning against the seal, members had placed black gaffer tape over the seal around Wasserstein Hall on Wednesday night, and some of that tape was removed and placed on the faculty pictures.
There’s a certain irony to defacing the wall of faculty pictures, since it already painted a fairly stark picture of the institution’s tenured teaching staff as dominated by white men. As of 2014-2015, the law school had 91 tenured or tenure-track faculty. Nine of them were black. Less than a quarter of the tenured faculty were women. The numbers among less prestigious visiting faculty, who are not permanent, are slightly better: “During the 2013-2014 year, 24% of School’s visiting professors were women and 21% were people of color. Additionally, during 2013-2014 the Law School’s faculty approved 26 women for visiting appointments in future terms.” HLS says its Class of 2018 is 47 percent female and 44 percent students of color.