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Harvard University Police Department has not identified the perpetrator responsible for the November vandalism of black Law School professors’ portraits and shuttered its investigation into the incident, ending more than a month of interviews and forensic examinations.
On November 19, Law School students and faculty arrived in Wasserstein Hall to find pieces of black tape placed over the portraits of several black Law professors. The incident, quickly denounced by students and Law School administrators as racist, prompted HUPD to investigate it as a hate crime.
Law School Dean for Administration Francis X. McCrossan wrote in a Jan. 8 email to Law School affiliates that the investigation would remain closed “pending further new and significant information.” He also wrote that new security camera equipment would be installed in Wasserstein Hall, the building where the pieces of black tape were found.
“As an academic community, we place great value on maintaining a largely open campus,” McCrossan wrote. “But we must balance that openness with the equally important need for safety.”
At least part of Wasserstein Hall—a main thoroughfare on the Law School’s campus— did not have security cameras at the time of the incident, requiring police officers to conduct the investigation using forensic evidence from the portraits and interviews with Law School affiliates. HUPD closed its investigation after their efforts yielded no information about the perpetrator, according to Steven G. Catalano, a spokesperson for the department.
“After pursuing these avenues, they were unable to identify the person or persons responsible for placing the tape on the portraits, or to determine the motivation for these acts,” Catalano wrote in an email.
Leland S. Shelton, the president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, said he hoped HUPD had thoroughly investigated the incident.
“I hope that this is a chance to move forward from last semester’s events,” he said.
At a meeting the day of the November incident, Law School Dean Martha L. Minow said racism was a “serious problem” at the school. The vandalism prompted student activism on campus, as a group of Law students released a set of demands in early December calling for better treatment of minority students on campus, later protesting what they called an inadequate response from administrators. Meanwhile, Minow and other administrators said they would work to diversify the Law School’s faculty and hire a staff member to focus on issues related to diversity.
The incident also intensified existing calls by student members of the group Royall Must Fall to change the Law School’s controversial seal, which features the crest of a slaveholding family. In late November, Law School Dean Martha L. Minow created a committee to reconsider the seal. The committee is scheduled to release its recommendations in March.
Alexander J. Clayborne, a student activist involved in Royall Must Fall, said the investigation’s conclusion does not mark an end to discussions of race on campus.
"Racism on campus is the actual perpetrator,” Clayborne wrote in an email on behalf of Royall Must Fall. “While it would have been nice to catch the guilty party, until the University addresses its systemic racism, incidents like this are just going to keep happening.”
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren contributed to the reporting of this story.
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