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Harvard Professor Sean Kelly to Lead Committee Evaluating Request to Dename Winthrop House

A Harvard faculty committee is set to review a formal request for Winthrop House's denaming.
A Harvard faculty committee is set to review a formal request for Winthrop House's denaming. By Julian J. Giordano
By Joyce E. Kim and Tess C. Wayland, Crimson Staff Writers

A committee of Harvard faculty, chaired by Philosophy professor Sean D. Kelly, will review a request to dename Winthrop House submitted earlier this year.

The denaming request — a 42-page report submitted March 1 by students as a part of the Dename Winthrop project — details the legacy of the two John Winthrops, who both enslaved people and are the namesakes for the House.

More than 1,000 Harvard affiliates, including 50 Winthrop descendants, have signed a petition in support of the request.

The committee will recommend either taking no action, denaming the House, or contextualizing the existing name in its final report, Kelly said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette, a Harvard-run publication.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra and President Claudine Gay will make the final decision in collaboration with the Harvard Corporation, Harvard’s highest governing body.

Kelly, a faculty dean of Dunster House, said the decision should be “intellectually rigorous” and “involve meaningful engagement” with University stakeholders.

Per FAS denaming guidelines, the committee was convened by the University and the FAS after the denaming request passed administrative review in April. It is now in its outreach phase, collecting comments from Harvard affiliates via an anonymous feedback form.

There is no stated timeline for the committee’s work.

Students who spearheaded the denaming request have criticized the University’s lack of transparency about the review process.

Kiersten B. Hash ’25 — one of the co-leads of the Dename Winthrop project — said administrators have shared “little to no information” with student organizers about the review’s next steps, which she said was “difficult” and “frustrating.”

In September, around 100 students emailed administrators calling for greater transparency in the review process, including releasing a list of committee members, a timeline, and public updates of the review.

“We felt like those three things in particular were super important to achieving transparency and also community inclusion,” Hash said, adding that organizers only learned of the committee when it was publicly announced on Nov. 16.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton did not comment on criticism of the process.

In February, students demonstrated in Winthrop House to encourage their peers to support denaming the House, citing the Winthrop family's ties to slavery.
In February, students demonstrated in Winthrop House to encourage their peers to support denaming the House, citing the Winthrop family's ties to slavery. By Julian J. Giordano

Dename Winthrop’s other co-lead Clyve Lawrence ’25, said that as part of the committee’s outreach, he and Hash are arranging a meeting with Kelly.

Kelly said that a big part of the University’s work will be determining how complicit the Winthrops were in preserving the institution of slavery, and how their “alleged behaviors” should be contextualized within their broader legacy.

“We want to understand to what degree these people may have been involved in these practices, but also what the significance of those practices would have been during that period,” Kelly said.

Lawrence, a Crimson Editorial editor, said he was “proud” of what he said had been “hundreds of hours” of work from student organizers.

“We really want to push for the University to not only acknowledge the actual history behind the name, but also acknowledge that students are leading this effort and ensure that there is accountability on both fronts.”

Hash said she was “hopeful” that there would be a “community reckoning” on the Winthrop legacy.

“That’s what our project is about — it’s about listening to the cohorts on this campus, or beyond this campus, that have been ignored, and their voices have been erased for essentially hundreds of years,” she said.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Tess C. Wayland can be reached at tess.wayland@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tess_wayland.

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