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Harvard College Holds Vigil for Victims of Racial Violence and Police Brutality

Harvard administrators and students spoke at a vigil for victims of racial violence Thursday.
Harvard administrators and students spoke at a vigil for victims of racial violence Thursday. By Allison G. Lee
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College held a vigil Thursday evening to honor the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the untold number of victims of racial violence and police brutality.

The virtual gathering, which welcomed students from all 12 undergraduate houses, featured student remarks, music by Kuumba — the oldest black student organization at Harvard — and a benediction by interim minister of Memorial Church Stephanie A. Paulsell.

The vigil centered on an 8 minute and 46 second moment of silence — the length of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, asphyxiating and murdering him.

Undergraduate Council Vice President Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe ’21 began the vigil by condemning police brutality and calling for racial justice.

“Over the past few weeks, the gross misconduct, racial bias, and inherent bigoted nature of the law enforcement system has been highlighted on a national and even global scale,” she said. “Our so-called justice system has failed to acknowledge and provide timely justice to the innocent black lives lost at the hands of those who are meant to protect us.”

“The reality is black people are systemically demonized, oppressed and murdered in a country that was literally built by black people,” she added. “We are gathered here today because black lives matter.”

UC President James A. Mathew ’21 said that, over the past five days, the UC organized a campus-wide fundraiser that raised over $35,000 to be distributed among “black solidarity charities.” He said the UC will also be donating an additional $10,000 of its own funds.

“We believe that it is simply not enough to release statements condemning these tragic events,” Mathew said. “Effective support must include action, and it is up to each one of us, no matter our color, to take this action.”

Treasure F. Brooks ’21 said she wished the University had taken greater action as students work to raise funds and demand action from lawmakers.

“I find it absolutely hilarious that the onus has been placed on students to raise funds for racial justice organizations, when our own university is the richest institution in the world with a $38.3 billion endowment,” Brooks said.

Brooks said there was “a great deal of irony” in Harvard holding a vigil for victims of police brutality when the Harvard University Police Department has faced allegations of racism and sexism.

HUPD has also come under fire from students for assisting the Boston Police Department at Black Lives Matter protests in recent days, as well as for allegedly using excessive force in arresting homeless black men in the Smith Campus Center.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an emailed statement that the nation and Harvard both face “important” issues.

"I think we as administrators need to listen closely to our students and engage directly in conversation,” he wrote.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain said the University declined to comment on the student criticisms.

Swain did confirm, however, that University President Lawrence S. Bacow was in attendance at the vigil.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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