Law School Student Groups Mark One Year Since Black Tape Vandalism

A year after a racially-charged act of vandalism shook the Law School and sparked an intense period of race-related activism, Law School student affinity groups are presenting a visual exhibit at the school to mark the anniversary of the incident.

On November 19, 2015, Law students and faculty walked into Wasserstein Hall to find pieces of black tape stuck across the portraits of black Law professors. The incident triggered an ultimately inconclusive police investigation and prompted Law School Dean Martha L. Minow to call racism “a serious problem” at the school.

The vandalism also raised larger questions about diversity and inclusion at the Law School, prompting a group of students, Reclaim Harvard Law, to make a series of demands—which included hiring more diverse faculty—and stage extensive protests. Administrators later responded by pledging more diversity in hiring, retiring the school’s controversial seal, and launching a series of diversity-related initiatives.

Now, a year later, leaders of student affinity groups, including the Black Law Students Association, the Native American Law Students Association, and the Women’s Law Association, produced the commemorative exhibit, entitled “Diverse Voices in Legal Education.” It consists of black-and-white photographs displayed throughout Wasserstein Hall of diverse legal scholars from across the country. The presentation is intentionally reminiscent of the array of portraits that were vandalized last year.

“A year ago this week, after the portraits of our African-American faculty were defaced, members of this community responded with expressions of love and rejection of hatred,” Minow wrote in an email to Law School affiliates Tuesday. “We have had critically important conversations, increasing our sense of understanding and leading to change here at Harvard Law School. These conversations must continue, and you all can help.”

Black Law Students Association President Kristin A. Turner said she and other affinity group leaders came together earlier this fall to brainstorm ways to highlight the anniversary of the incident and ensure that discussions about diversifying the faculty continue at the school.

“We wanted to make sure that we were not only flagging the date itself but we were also shedding more light and bringing issues back to the forefront that are ongoing conversations at the Law School,” Turner said.

Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells, whose office provided resources to students to help install the exhibit, called it “a wonderful coming together of the Student Government and student organizations.”

Turner and other student leaders decided to feature minority faculty from law schools nationwide to emphasize what they say is the disproportionately small number of minorities who work in legal education. In an article in the Harvard Law Record announcing the exhibit, affinity group leaders point to statistics indicating that 37 percent of law professors nationwide are women, and 15 percent are people of color.

But law professors of diverse backgrounds stand at the forefront of their fields, Turner said, and the display in Wasserstein Hall aims to showcase these scholars and prompt viewers to visualize a representative faculty in the school’s halls.

“We call it a visual campaign, because we wanted to do something that would tie to the portrait defacement,” she said. “We wanted people to walk down the halls and feel a sense of what it would be like to walk down halls with more diverse faculty members than the ones we currently walk through.”

In a statement to The Crimson last May, Minow wrote that the school was working on “recruitment and support of new and diverse staff and faculty.” A Law School spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment about faculty diversity at the school.

The exhibit will run until Tuesday.

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at claire.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

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