Harvard Law School is ditching its official seal, following months of protests urging its removal because of its ties to a slave owner, The Harvard Crimson reported.
The Royall family’s coat of arms was adopted as the seal to honour slave owner Isaac Royall Jr.’s
gift to Harvard college upon his death in 1781, which allowed the formation of Harvard Law School.
“You should feel free to discontinue use of the shield as soon as you see fit, and we will look forward to receiving your eventual recommendation for a new shield, ideally in time for it to be introduced for the School’s bicentennial in 2017,” a letter from Harvard College President Drew Faust and William Lee, a senior fellow, wrote to Law School Dean Martha Minow.
In 2015, a movement called “Royall Must Fall” formally began on campus with a rally of about 25 people.
“These symbols set the tone for the rest of the school and the fact that we hold up the Harvard crest as something to be proud of when it represents something so ugly is a profound disappointment and should be a source of shame for the whole school,” Alexander J. Clayborne, one of the law students involved, told The Crimson last year.
More largely, the students aimed to draw attention to and correct the legacy of slave-owning on Harvard’s campus.
“We demand the removal of the Harvard family crest as the crest of the law school and we demand that the Royall Chair of Law be renamed as well,”
Students for Inclusion, a student group on campus, wrote on its Tumblr page.
“We also demand that systemic oppression be recognised as pervasive and endemic to the law school and we demand that it be addressed by the faculty and by the student body at large.”
However, there are at least a couple of dissenting opinions on whether the school should have changed its seal.
Harvard Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed published an opinion piece in Time.com, imploring students not to advocate for the removal of the seal, but for it to stay as a constant reminder of the past.
“The enslaved at the Royall Plantation and the graduates of Harvard Law School should be tied together as they have been without our knowledge for so many years, and as they always will be whether we choose to hide that connection from the world or not,” she wrote.
Visiting law school professor, Daniel R. Coquillette, argued a similar point.
While he called Royall “a coward, and a brutal slaveholder,” Coquillette told the Harvard Crimson in 2015 he didn’t think the school should change the seal.
“As a historian … you just deal with the fact that this guy founded the school and tell the truth about it,” he told the Crimson. “To change things is to act like [they] didn’t happen, and that’s a mistake.”
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