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Although we are excited to have our fellows back on campus and working in Byerly Hall, Harvard Radcliffe Institute programs remain primarily virtual as we continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic. See Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Updates.

About Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery

The Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, announced by Harvard President Larry Bacow in November of 2019 and anchored at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, is an effort to understand and address the enduring legacy of slavery within our University community. It is guided by a Presidential Committee, chaired by Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who is also the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a professor of history in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In this work, we are committed to:

  • a strong grounding in rigorous research;
  • a focus on connections, impact, and contributions that are specific to our Harvard community; and
  • investment in opportunities to convene our broader University community to examine the impact and legacy of slavery in 2019 and beyond.

This builds on years of important work, including several significant steps under the leadership of Harvard President Emerita Drew Gilpin Faust:

  • the retirement of the Harvard Law School shield, which contained elements of the slaveowning Royall family’s crest, on the recommendation of a faculty committee established by Dean Martha Minow in response to student activism on campus;
  • memorials commemorating the lives and contributions of enslaved individuals installed at Wadsworth House and Harvard Law School;
  • a faculty committee convened by President Faust, which initiated research on the University’s historical ties to slavery through work with the Harvard Archives and other University collections;
  • the university hosting and joining academic collaborations and conferences with peers from across higher education; and
  • numerous classes, seminars, exhibitions, performances, and discussions that took place across our campus.

This, in turn, is built on substantial research and engagement within the context of undergraduate seminars on Harvard and slavery.

The presidential initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery will extend this work through a range of efforts including public programming and the development of educational resources.

Key Areas of Inquiry

We have formed subcommittees, each chaired by members of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, to drive our efforts in key areas, including contemporary campus life and community partnerships; curriculum; links to Antigua and other Caribbean nations; and the history of race, medicine, and the sciences.

  • Campus and community, led by Stephen Gray, Tiya Miles, and Dan Smith, is focused on engaging our community—on campus and off—in a number of meaningful ways, including a walking tour and graphic catalogue exploring the history of enslavement on and around campus. Additional work by Bill Wilson and Tony Jack will examine the experiences at Harvard of African American students descended from enslaved people as they cope with the confluence of a racial reckoning, public health crisis, and economic distress.
  • Curriculum, led by Meira Levinson and Martha Minow, is surveying what courses already exist at Harvard and identifying new ways to support student engagement with legacies of slavery through courses, orientation, and more.
  • Antigua and the Caribbean, led by Sven Beckert and Annette Gordon-Reed, is examining Harvard’s connections to sugar plantations in the Caribbean and exploring opportunities to engage stakeholders—including university students and faculty—in Antigua and other Caribbean nations with historic Harvard links.
  • Medical education and experimentation, led by Paul Farmer and Evelynn Hammonds, is considering legacies of slavery in the sciences and examining Harvard museum collections connected to slavery in order to consider how best to reckon with problematic artifacts.

A sepia-toned photo of a mansion and slave quarters, in Medford, Massachusetts.

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