Harvard Law community rallies after demands not met

Chants of “Enough is enough” and “We need change” rang out through campus Monday afternoon. December 7, 2015 | 4:34 PM

Members of the Harvard Law School community and the group called “Reclaim Harvard Law” hosted a rally Monday after demands they presented to the administration Friday were not met.

Students presented eight demands, including the removal of the Royall family crest from Harvard Law’s official seal, to Dean Martha Minow and other administrators during a meeting Friday and asked for a response by 9 a.m. Monday morning. When students did not receive a response, they organized an “urgent response rally” on Facebook.

Shay Johnson, a third-year law student, went to the dean’s office Monday morning.

“She’s apparently out of town. A lot of the recent inertia started with the black tape incident,” she told Boston.com, referring to a lack of response students feel came after black tape was placed over the portraits of black professors in the law school.

Those attending the rally handed out flyers listing their demands, and took turns speaking to the group that gathered outside of the Caspersen student center.

“We are here to say we are still waiting for a response,” Johnson said. “An answer that is not a resounding ‘yes’ is unacceptable,” she said into a megaphone, a sentiment that was met with cheers from the crowd.

“Thinking about what happened Friday, it was beautiful to see that there are so many folks at this law school who want to see change,” Jeohn Favors, a second-year law student said.

Dehlia Umunna, a clinical professor who has worked at Harvard since 2007, came out of her office to join the rally. “I got a text that said ‘There’s a rally,’” she said, “I thought, ‘I have work to do,’ and then it dawned on me, ‘What is more important than now?’”

“I am so proud of each and every one of you,” Umunna said to the crowd.

Other faculty members took part to show their solidarity with the group as well.

Favors wrapped up the rally, hopping back up on a bench, megaphone in hand.

“What do we need?” he asked, “Change!” the crowd responded, “When do we need it?” “Now!” they answered.

“Say it louder so Dean Minow can hear us in Chicago,” Favors said.

Update: Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow issued the following statement to Boston.com on Monday afternoon:

Harvard Law School has long been committed to building a truly diverse community of students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. We are a large and pluralistic community dedicated to training the world’s best lawyers, to advancing justice, to promoting free and open inquiry, and to building a community that is diverse and inclusive among students, staff and faculty across all dimensions. Like any institution that seeks to be better and do better, ours has more work to do. I heard the voices of our students, faculty and staff who have spoken at recent community meetings of not feeling included, known, or respected. My goal—our shared goal—is to foster a community in which all can thrive to their fullest potential.

Some students and staff have presented a list of demands. We are, however, a community of many voices and hopes, and we have an obligation to provide and protect the opportunity for all to participate, speak and be heard. We will work, as we always do, to seek broad input as we determine what kinds of reforms and actions will best promote our academic mission and build the community we aspire to be. Real institutional change requires the engagement of many members of our large and diverse community, and it depends on bringing about cultural change, in which we all have a stake.

I have been and will continue to work with our Dean of Students, Marcia Sells, our Assistant Dean for Human Resources, Kevin Moody, faculty, staff and students to develop plans and next steps, some of which I have reported on already. As you know, Professor Bruce Mann is chairing a committee to look at our use of the Royall family crest and they will make a recommendation in March 2016. Work is already intensively underway planning for orientation next fall to better promote the norms and community culture we all demand for our school. We are developing a plan to hire additional staff to oversee diversity and inclusion initiatives and programming. We have had an unwavering and steadily growing commitment to raise money for our financial aid and our Low Income Protection Plan, and that is the top priority of our current campaign.

This is the beginning not an end to our work together. I look forward to collaborating with many of you as we move forward in our shared work. All great institutions must think hard about and take action where they can do better; that is our obligation and my commitment.