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Law School Faculty and Staff Commend Student Activism

As Harvard Law School students continue to advocate for a list of demands they say will improve the school’s treatment of minority students, a group of 25 Law faculty and staff published a letter Wednesday commending the student activism.

Last Friday, a group of Law School students, now called “Reclaim Harvard Law School,” demanded that Law School Dean Martha L. Minow institute a number of changes to the school’s curriculum and culture. While the professors did not directly endorse the demands—which range from establishing an independent office of diversity and inclusion to changing the school’s controversial seal—they praised the student efforts.

HLS Solidarity Rally
Harvard Law School student activists held a solidarity rally at Kumble Plaza on Monday afternoon. Law School Dean Martha L. Minow has yet to publicize a plan to implement student demands brought up during a community meeting last Friday.

“Complacency is not an option. We are ready to work with students and staff in an immediate, concrete and informed process or assessment and reform,” the professors, lecturers, and staff members wrote. “The current activism presents us with an opportunity that lovers of justice cannot afford to squander.”

In the past few months, discussions of racism at the Law School have dominated campus discourse.

A racially-charged incident involving pieces of black tape placed over the portraits of black faculty members in late November intensified student demands that administrators improve the school’s treatment of minority students. On Monday, students held a rally to protest what they described as Minow’s inadequate response to their demands.

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Minow met with some students Wednesday evening, according to Michelle B. Deakin, a Law School spokesperson, and some students said they discussed their demands with the dean. Minow has already taken some steps to respond to student demands, including creating a committee to reconsider the school’s seal.

The Law faculty and staff were not the only ones commenting on the recent developments at the Law School—another group of students launched a website called “Responsible Speech at HLS” that is critical of some aspects of Reclaim Harvard Law School’s demands. The online letter, supported by 16 signatories, most anonymous, argues that some of the demands—like curriculum change—could stifle academic freedom and discourage alternative viewpoints.

“We think some of the demands would have a chilling effect on dialogue and would actually be unproductive,” said William H. Barlow, a Law student who helped launch the site.

In an emailed statement, Alexander J. Clayborne, a third-year Law student, said he and student activists were encouraged by the faculty and staff’s letter, which was posted on the website of the Systemic Justice Project. Clayborne declined to comment on the “Responsible Speech at HLS” letter.

“[We] are very excited to see support among the faculty, lecturers, instructors, and senior staff. We'll be working to build more support in the future,” Clayborne wrote.

Janet E. Halley, one of the Law School professors who signed the open letter, said she is thankful to the student activists for changing campus discourse.

“We’ve been having a lot of conversations about racial inclusion and diversity at the Law School this fall thanks to the student movement,” Halley said. “We’re going to continue to do that through the rest of the year, and this is an effort by some members of the teaching community at the Law School to convey that we’re grateful for the way that they’ve brought the issues forward.”

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at andy.duehren@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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