Portraits of Black Professors at Harvard Defaced

Yet another incident of racism on college campuses, which authorities are investigating as a hate crime

Harvard Law School on Thursday became the newest addition to the ever-growing list of collegiate campuses being plagued by racially-charged incidents. Black strips of tape were stuck on several portraits of Black professors at the university. Not all portraits with Black professors were defaced, but only Black professors were targeted. University authorities currently do not have any suspects.

The incident came just a day after students held a rally in support of the students at University of Missouri and Yale, who have spent the last several weeks battling racial tensions on their own respective campuses, holding protests and walkouts that resulted in the resignation of Mizzou’s president.

RELATED STORY: Black Alum Named Interim Pres. of Mizzou

The law school’s dean, Martha Minow, said in an email that campus authorities were investigating what happened as a hate crime.

“I am saddened and angered by this act,” Minow said.

“We will not always agree on the best ways forward,” Harvard President Dean Faust said. “But we owe it to one another to shape an environment in which every one of us is fully included.”

Students have found the incident offensive and believe it was a clear attack on race.

“I woke up to a bunch of texts,” Kyle Strickland, the school’s student body president, said regarding the incident. “As a black student, it was extremely offensive. And I know the investigation’s ongoing; we’ll see what happened, but to me it seemed like a pretty clear act of intolerance, racism.”

RELATED STORY: Yale Students March Same Day Mizzou Pres. Resigns

According to its website, Harvard Law School’s 2015 class was comprised of “44 percent students of color” and does not provide a further breakdown. However, the College Scorecard for the undergraduate class shows just 7 percent of students are Black. And of the 125 full-time faculty members, only 12 are Black.

Professor Ronald Sullivan, a professor at Harvard Law, tweeted a photo of his own defaced portrait.

“This is my portrait at the Harvard Law School,” he wrote. “All faculty of color woke up to the same thing this morning.”

RELATED STORY: Black Lives Matter Student Protests Around the U.S.

Following the news, a group of students immediately tracked down Dean Minow and asked that “we talk about this,” according to third-year student Dami Animashaun. This act turned into a meeting, comprised of hundreds of students and several faculty members and administrators, to discuss race relations on campus.

“Racism exist[s] in America … and in Harvard and in Harvard Law School,” Minow said at the meeting.

Shay Johnson, a third-year student and the internal vice-president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, described the meeting as “very emotional.”

Although admission for the Class of 2018 “represent[s] record levels of diversity,” according to The Harvard Crimson, students attending the school have said this doesn’t hold true for the actual climate on campus.

“While we’re hurt that this happened, we’re really not surprised,” Johnson said. “Because it’s part of this larger system of racial antagonism that [has] been going on in the U.S. and at the law school, whether it’s explicit or implicit.”

In a statement to CNN, senior A.J. Clayborne expressed similar sentiments: “This is merely a symptom of the greater systematic racism that currently permeates this law school and legal institutions in general.”

RELATED STORY: Princeton U. Students Stage Campus Sit-In Over ‘Racist Legacy’

Also on Thursday, the school’s Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion released a 37-page report that highlighted this grim reality. The report indicates how one initiative, the Students Event Fund (SEF), geared towards helping low-income students backfired:

This program had the admirable aim of affording students the chance to attend up to five campus events each semester at no cost. Yet several students (and, at a different point, alumni) noted how separate lines for SEF ticket pickups marked students to their wealthier classmates; one resident tutor remembered jokes about the “welfare line” or the “poor kids line” during his undergraduate days.

Indeed, a large class gap exists at the school. Only 3 percent of undergraduate students receive federal loans for their tuition, and just 10 percent receive a Pell Grant.

Students have been speaking out regarding Harvard’s problems with diversity for quite some time. Last year, a Tumblr page called I, Too, Am Harvard was launched. According to the page’s description, the site gives a voice to students who feel silenced on campus: “Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned — this project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here. This place is ours. We, TOO, are Harvard.”

RELATED STORY: Campus Racism Likely to Claim Another University President

The students have handled the situation in a seemingly positive way. On Thursday night, following the removal of the black tape from the portraits, students put Post-It notes on the pictures instead and wrote various kind words about their professors. These actions and the way the students reacted to the incident have spoken volumes, according to professors affected by the vandalism.

“I am so proud of these students for reacting with love and kindness, for showing leadership, and for valuing inclusion,” Dr. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a professor of constitutional law, said.

“My shock and dismay … were replaced with joy and admiration when I saw the lovely notes of affirmation and appreciation that Harvard law students placed on our portraits,” Professor Sullivan said.

The university has scheduled another community meeting for November 30.


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  • The most telling comment:” While we’re hurt that this happened, we’re really not surprised.” I’ve read and heard commentaries indicating that the students have nothing to complain about, so what if racist terms are hurled, so what if their attempting to get the adminstrators attention bears no fruit — yep, so what? Under all that is the underlying assumption that they are lucky to be in these institutions of higher education. They are there just because they are black/Hispanic/Jewish, and they need to get perspective and a sense of humour.
    The problem is that these students are not surprised, and they expect imbalances and occasional disrespect, but would be too exhausted addressing each and every ignorant incident when the attitudes and behaviors are so pervasive. I knew things were bad when the protests began, but I was proud of the students addressing group concerns or those with group impact. When it gets so bad and the institutions aren’t responsive when presented with allegations, it’s a slap in their faces indicating they are not a part of the institution, but are only tolerated guests. Nearly 50 years ago we were demonstrating about some of the same issues and it’s so very disheartening that our grandchildren, in spite of exceptional GPA’s, SAT’s, ACT’s and life expereinces are suffering the same.

    • It is all about providing a quality education for all students, especially the third generation Ivy educated elites – who will leave the cloistered world and take top paying jobs at companies competing in a global marketplace featuring a dramatically rising global middle class, as our country becomes “majority minority” in just 14 years. Learning to get along and work with with “those people” is a competitive necessity.

  • “campus authorities were investigating what happened as a hate crime”, but the incident is probably another hoax.

    Many (most?) of the weird and confusing race-related incidents that make big news are later discovered to be self-inflicted or falsely reported. For instance, the Saginaw,Michigan threatener who recently posted on Yikyak: “I’m going to shoot every black person I can on campus. Starting tomorrow morning” is, according to police, Emmanuel D. Bowden, who is, or at least identifies as, black.

    He had reportedly lived in Saginaw Valley State housing and attended Delta College, a public, two-year community college,

    And Delta College easily segues into the Delta, Utah homosexual, Rick Jones, who was robbed, had “Die Fag” carved into his arm with a knife, and was forced to drink bleach on a Saturday night in late April. He actually did it all to himself and falsely reported a hate crime to local police.

    Etc, ad nauseam.

    • Police officer Bryan Johnson lied about being shot at (he shot his own car), which started a multistate manhunt (for fictional criminals). http://www.whdh.com/story/30008934/former-millis-police-officer-accused-of-shooting-hoax-pleads-not-guilty

      An on-duty State Trooper lied about recovering from surgery after hitting a woman’s car from behind. He was drunk. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2015/10/state_trooper_charged_with_dui_after_on-duty_crash.html

      Angelo Mozillo, former CEO of the former Countrywide was one of the key perpetrators (who were all white men) in the subprime crisis. More money was stolen under his leadership than all the crimes that put all the prisoners currently in prison. He is still a free man.

      “Etc. ad nauseam”

      • false comparison, Oranges vs. potatoes.

        My examples are of the dishonest trying to instigate prejudice-related incidents, which I expect the black-taped portrait to also be. Your counters are just accounts of weasels lying to save their own skins/wallets..

          • This one’s sad, but funny, too.

            Last week at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, a student group called Hidden Dores (sic) found a black bag of poop on the front steps of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center on the campus. So, “The Hidden Dores team is appalled to announce that our demonstration yesterday was met this morning with a vile act, This morning someone left a bag of feces on the porch of Vanderbilt University’s Black Cultural Center. As many of us sit in grief, recognize that these types of actions are what we speak of when we note the reality of exclusion and isolation of students of color and specifically Black students on our campus….”

            The campus police located the offender. A security camera showed that it was a blind female student’s seeing eye dog. Being blind, she was unable to locate a trashcan. So she did what she had been instructed to do with her dog’s waste, she left it outside the door of the nearest building so the next person coming along could put it in the trash.

          • Sad that most people wouldn’t assume it was an innocent mistake, like pumping 16 rounds into a guy laying on the ground. Or shooting a 12 year old playing in a the park.

    • melissa wilsom

      Lol while i do agree with everything you said here you are not supposed to say it, this page does not like or handle the truth very well.

    • Just because a black person did it, doesn’t make it okay and doesn’t mean it’s not a product of white supremacy.

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