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Harvard Law School Students Rally, Demanding Changes On Diversity

The Harvard Law School seal can be seen on banners decorating the library for commencement in May 2011. (nkcphoto/Flickr)
The Harvard Law School seal can be seen on banners decorating the library for commencement in May 2011. (nkcphoto/Flickr)
This article is more than 3 years old.

Harvard Law School students rallied Monday afternoon to demand the school change its official seal, which features parts of Isaac Royall's family crest — a slave owner who helped found the institution.

Students had given Dean Martha Minow until 9 a.m. Monday to meet their demands to change the seal as well as create a permanent memorial to the Royall family's slaves. Minow has not responded. She is traveling.

Dean of Students Marcia Sells addressed the students at Monday's rally.

"A quick response to those issues, I think, would give them not the value for which they deserve," Sells said. "But I do want to say that I do indeed hear you. I do think that there are things that we as a community can change and improve, and I'm looking forward to that work."

Isaac Royall owned enslaved Africans at his estate in Medford prior to the American Revolution, during which he fled to England. Royall died in 1781, and in his will left land to Harvard College to establish its first professorship in law. His heirs sold the land and used the funds to endow Harvard Law School. Part of the Royall family crest is now part of the school's officials seal.

Students are now demanding that the Isaac Royall Chair in Law be renamed the Belinda Royall Chair, after one of the enslaved Africans owned by Isaac Royall, or be allocated to a scholar in critical race theory.

The students are also demanding that Harvard Law School establish a critical race program, reform the mandatory curriculum, establish an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and improve affordability to the law school for students of color, from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students who are "otherwise marginalized."

"One of the main issues we see is that people whose voices from marginalized communities are most needed in doing that kind of work, they come in the law school, they incur all this debt and they're pressured into going into the private sector due to the high tuition cost," said Mickey Belaineh, a third-year law student from Texas.

"So the school enables students to go out into the world and be better leaders," said Shay Johnson, a third-year student helped organize the rally. "That's what we're trying to get at here, and those are the issues that we're trying to get at that are in the background."

Students are also asking for a sustained commitment to recruiting, retaining and promoting staff of color, especially in senior management, and the creation of a diversity committee.

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Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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