A group of Harvard Law students have occupied one of the school’s halls, saying there is no space for marginalized students and staff on campus. The occupation, which began Monday night, is an effort to create such an environment, according to a statement from the students.
The group, which calls itself Reclaim Harvard Law, took to the lounge in Wasserstein Hall around 8 p.m., renaming the spot “Belinda Hall”—a nod to a former slave of the law school’s donors. Around 20 students spent the night in the lounge Monday after toting along air mattresses, blankets, and suitcases, The Crimson reported. Some said they intend to remain in the hall indefinitely.
“Our recent efforts are intellectually descended from the numerous student movements that have arisen time and again at HLS, because of a long-true reality: Harvard Law School is not an inclusive institution,” a statement from the group said.
Members of Reclaim Harvard Law rallied in December after they said the administration denied to meet the group’s eight demands—including the removal of a controversial seal that is also the coat of arms of a slaveholder who helped to found the school. Students also demanded the establishment of an office of diversity and inclusion.
In the past few months, the law school’s Dean Martha Minow has appointed a committee to review the use of the seal and investigated an incident in which someone defaced portraits of black professors as a hate crime.
“HLS deeply values diversity and inclusion, and Dean Minow, Dean Sells, and our faculty, staff and alumni have all been directly engaged in efforts to improve upon our existing efforts and structures to make HLS as welcoming, diverse, and vibrant a community as it can be,” Robb London, a Harvard Law spokesman, said in an email statement to Boston.com. “The Law School administration has been working with student leaders on a number of initiatives.”
London said those initiatives include involving students in the decision to add a director for community engagement and equity; facilitating a campus-wide climate survey and focus groups on diversity; and initiating training across the school to better prevent sexual assault.
The school also plans to better cater to the needs and concerns of the diverse backgrounds from which students come during orientation, London said.
Reclaim Harvard Law said it isn’t satisfied with the school’s response thus far.
“The members of Reclaim Harvard Law believe in this institution’s mission to ‘educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society,’” the statement said. “The leaders that emerge from this institution must not continue to perpetuate patterns of violence and oppression that have existed in the United States of America for centuries.”
Rather than a leader in racial justice, the group’s statement called the institution “a leader in the further entrenchment of the status quo.”
Activists say they want to see the university better contextualize its curriculum and increase “cultural competency” education for professors and students.
“This is about working with each other to implement and build out the things that we can do,” Rena Karefa-Johnson told The Crimson. “This can be an Office of Diversity, this can be a critical race theory classroom.”
On Tuesday, professors came to a student workshop in the lounge to discuss how race should be addressed in classes, and activists say they plan to hold similar programming throughout the occupation, The Crimson reported.
“We want people to feel comfortable to come and discuss tough topics around diversity and inclusion,” Black Law Students Association vice president Shay Johnson, told The Crimson.
Until the university yields to their demands, the group says it plans to facilitate the type of environment that will advance justice and racial equality on their own terms.
“We will assume the burden of educating ourselves and others in spite of this institution and not because of it,” the statement said. “We will force this institution to become the educational environment which it has hitherto only pretended to be.”