Someone Defaced Portraits Of Black Professors At Harvard Law School

A student called the incident "a further reminder that white supremacy built this place."

The Harvard University Police Department is investigating an incident in which portraits of black faculty at its law school were defaced.

Michelle Deakin, a law school spokeswoman, said that an investigation was ongoing. In a statement released Friday, Harvard President Drew Faust condemned the act.

"We join together as a university in deploring the defacing of portraits of African American faculty at the law school. Such acts of hatred are inimical to our most fundamental values and represent an assault on the mutual respect essential to our purposes as a community of learning and inquiry," she said.

In one of the law school's buildings, where portraits of faculty members are displayed, someone put black tape over the faces of African-American faculty, as though "crossing them out." In photos posted online by one student, it appears that the vandal specifically targeted the portraits of black people, rather than every portrait of a person of color.

Robb London, an assistant dean at the school, said that Law School Dean Martha Minow would hold an open forum with the campus community on Thursday.

"Expressions of hatred are abhorrent, whether they be directed at race, sex, sexual preference, gender identity, religion, or any other targets of bigotry," Minow said in a statement. "Here at HLS, we are focused on efforts to improve our community, examining structures that may contribute to negative experiences of any members of our community, and pursuing opportunities where the School can both change and support change.”

Michele Hall, a second-year law student who posted about the photos, called the incident a "hate crime" in a blog post on Thursday. She also wrote that the portraits of black faculty held a special meaning for her.

"I am constantly reminded of the legacy of white supremacy that founded this school and still breathes through every classroom and lecture hall," she wrote. "I am also shown the small inroads that professors of color have made, breaking apart the notion that whiteness is the epitome of legal scholarship."

The portrait incident, Hall wrote, is a sign that Harvard Law still has more work to do in making the school welcoming to black students.

"The defacing of the portraits of black professors this morning is a further reminder that white supremacy built this place, is the foundation of this place, and that we never have and still do not belong here," she wrote.

"We will march and scream and sit in and walk out and shout our demands and make ourselves heard and tear down these hallways of white supremacy because we belong here too," she went on. "And no longer can you make us feel that we do not belong here."

The incident came after a demonstration on Wednesday supporting black activists on other campuses, WCVB reported. Students have also pushed for the law school to change its seal, which bears the crest of a family that owned slaves.

 This story has been updated to include a statement from Minow and Faust.

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