Law School Launches Series on Diversity

After a year that saw Harvard Law School embroiled in debates over race and diversity, Law School Dean Martha L. Minow has launched a new lecture series entitled “Diversity and U.S. Legal History.”

The 10-week series, which kicked off Wednesday, is a joint effort on the part of the Dean’s office and Law School professor Mark Tushnet’s reading group, which bears the same title as the series. Minow took suggestions from faculty and students on potential speakers.

567 Nations: The History of Federal Indian Law
Dean Martha L. Minow invites Joseph W. Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, to give the first lecture of the Diversity and U.S. Legal History series at the Harvard Law School.
The lecturers—who include Law School professors Randall L. Kennedy, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Annette Gordon-Reed, Michael Klarman, and Kenneth W. Mack, Divinity School professor Diana L. Eck—will discuss topics ranging from race in American history, to challenges facing Latinos, the originalist case for reparations, and religious pluralism.

While Minow’s own scholarship has dealt with racial and religious minorities and conflict resolution, she will not lecture as part of the series.

Law School professor Joseph William Singer delivered the first talk—“567 Nations: The History of Federal Indian Law”—to a crowded room Wednesday in the school’s student center. Singer recounted the development of colonial and United States law regarding Native Americans from the 18th century to the present, arguing that certain judicial rulings or government actions were unconstitutional.

The first presentation took place just down the hall from the student lounge that was the epicenter of intense activism, including an occupation, last year. The topic of diversity dominated campus conversation last academic year, which was marked by a wave of student activism and several race-related incidents that shook the Law School. Activists with the group Reclaim Harvard Law issued a set of demands to Minow last December, which included calling on the school to create a critical race theory program.

In February, activists began occupying the school’s student lounge, and Minow announced several initiatives that month—including hiring a Director for Community Engagement and Equity, administering a campus-wide climate survey, and establishing a mentoring program. And in March, the Harvard Corporation approved a Law School committee’s recommendation to remove the school’s controversial seal, which displayed the crest of a prominent slave-owning family.

Minow insists the new lecture series is not a response to recent activism, but rather a means of highlighting the work on diversity issues faculty members have undertaken for years. In previous years, the Dean’s Office has sponsored special lecture series that align with the reading group.

“The Law School’s commitment to and interest in diversity–in our community, in the profession, and in society–is longstanding, and the series offers a chance to explore diversity, anti-discrimination, and justice in the profession and in law,” she wrote in a statement provided to The Crimson via Law School spokesperson Michelle Deakin.

First-year Law student Niku Jafarnia, who closely followed activism and race issues last year at the Law School before arriving on its campus, said she is glad Minow created the series and hopes it will advance ongoing discussions about diversity in law and legal education.

“I think it’s a small step, but they’re working on it and that’s important,” Safarnia said. “Hopefully people will be more willing to have conversations about things like this this year than they were in the past.”

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

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