On October 20, 2015, a new group of Harvard Law School students called Royall Must Fall announced its presence on Facebook and Twitter, declaring its solidarity with the Rhodes Must Fall movement – which had called for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. In an open letter to Dean Martha Minow, Harvard student advocates argued that HLS’s shield honored a family complicit in “the brutal torture and murder of 88 enslaved persons.” Adopting a symbolic replacement shield with silhouetted slaves bearing the familiar three wheat sheaves on their backs, the protesters argued that removal of the existing shield would focus institutional memory on the “clear connection between the slave trade and the present” – in the form of “structural racism” within present-day institutions. The students maintained that Daniel R. Coquillette and Bruce A. Kimball’s On the Battlefield of Merit, just off the presses at the time, documented their historical claims.
After an unknown person or persons placed black tape over the portraits of many of the law school’s African American professors, and after several law school community meetings, in early December the student advocates widened their demands to include: a Critical Race Theory program; a Diversity and Inclusion Office; a curriculum that includes “marginalized voices” and discussions of racism; “financial access” to HLS; a Diversity Committee composed of students, faculty and staff; and later, recruitment and retention of more Staff of Color. These students formed a new group, naming themselves “Reclaim Harvard Law School,” to press their expanded demands in parallel with similar movements on campuses around the country.
On February 15, some students announced that they were “occupying” the Haas Lounge in Wasserstein Hall. They renamed it Belinda Hall, in honor of Belinda Sutton, the formerly enslaved woman who had successfully petitioned for a pension from the Royall estate. For the next four months, the lounge was the scene of teach-ins, study sessions and discussions among students, as well as controversy since not all students agreed with Reclaim’s demands and methods. On March 3, 2016, a student/faculty/staff/alumni committee appointed by Dean Minow recommended retirement of the shield (with a dissent, “A Different View,” by Annette Gordon-Reed) – a recommendation accepted by the Harvard Corporation eleven days later. Students exclaimed “Royall Has Fallen!” on Twitter.
On one matter both the student advocates and the committee agreed: much more work needs to be done. “The Royall crest is merely one aspect of this broader justice project in creating an inclusive community,” several members of Royall Must Fall had written in November. “And it is only the beginning.”
- Kenneth W. Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law, Harvard Law School