Student Activists Protest Award Ceremony for Law School Dean

A group of five Harvard Law and roughly 15 to 20 Brandeis protesters stood at the back of the Brandeis library where Minow delivered an acceptance speech, holding signs and interjecting with a chant charging that Minow has not done enough to address racism at the school.

HLS Dean Minow
Protesters interrupted Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow (seen here in December) at her reception of the Gittler Prize and Brandeis University.
The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize recognizes individuals “whose body of published work reflects scholarly excellence and makes a lasting contribution to racial, ethnic or religious relations,” according to a Brandeis announcement. Along with the award, Minow received $25,000.

Brandeis announced Minow as this year’s award recipient in October. A press release from the university highlighted Minow’s work on divided societies, the legacy of desegregation in American education, and international peace-building.

Between the time Brandeis announced the award in October and Thursday’s ceremony, Minow has regularly confronted problems related to race relations at the Law School, which has seen a wave of diversity-related activism over the past few months. After a racially-charged incident of vandalism in November, student activists in the group Reclaim Harvard Law issued a series of demands, calling on administrators to improve treatment of minorities at the Law School.

Additionally, students have denounced the Law School’s seal, which bears the crest of a former slaveholding family. In late November, Minow created a committee to reconsider the school’s controversial seal and pledged to hire more minority faculty members. More recently, she announced a series of initiatives intended to improve diversity and inclusion at the school. Student activists, however, continue to criticize Minow and other administrators for not fully responding to their specific demands. They have been occupying a Law School student lounge—which they have dubbed “Belinda Hall”–for more than a week in protest.

Before Thursday’s ceremony and protest occurred, Law professor Randall Kennedy, who has worked closely with Minow, said that he thought the award was aptly timed.

“Dean Minow is a person who is deeply concerned about the wide array of issues–political, pedagogical, moral, ethical–that is generating student activism,” Kennedy said. “It seems to me that it is altogether fitting that she should get this prize at this moment.”

Activists, however, said they perceived the timing of the prize as “ironic.” Reclaim Harvard Law spokesperson Alexander J. Clayborne said his group decided to attend the ceremony with activists from Brandeis’ Ford Hall movement, who protested what they said was their university’s lack of diverse faculty last fall. This is not the first instance of collaboration between the two groups; Brandeis activists joined Reclaim Harvard Law’s occupation last week, along with students from Yale Law School and Occidental College.

“Dean Minow has done a lot of academic work to enhance the cause of racial justice and social justice in general, and we felt that it was ironic that she was receiving an award for this activity when her actions don’t correspond to that here at Harvard Law School,” Clayborne said.

In the back of the Brandeis library room, protesters held signs and a re-creation of the Law School’s seal depicting black individuals carrying sheaves of wheat on their back. Interrupting Minow’s remarks, activists called her acceptance of the prize “hypocrisy” and “a travesty.”

“You came to Brandeis to talk a big game, but injustice is in Cambridge. Your school is racist. Your school is not inclusive,” protesters chanted. Borrowing Minow’s own language in the speech, they said, “Today we upstand. We speak out in public. We face danger. We build anti-racism while you bystand.”

After the interruption, Minow continued her speech. In a question and answer session afterwards, protesters asked why Minow had not yet visited “Belinda Hall,” the location of their ongoing sit-in. While the dean responded that she had visited three times, activists had not seen her, Clayborne said.

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


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