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Harvard committed $100 million to redress its ties to slavery after a historic report released Tuesday found that slavery played an “integral” role in shaping the University.
The report — written by a team of 13 professors commissioned by University President Lawrence S. Bacow in 2019 — detailed Harvard’s history with slavery over three centuries and included seven recommendations for the University to “take responsibility for its past” and “leverage its strengths in the pursuit of meaningful repair.”
In an email to Harvard affiliates Tuesday signed by every member of the Harvard Corporation, the school’s top governing board, Bacow accepted the report’s recommendations and announced the creation of the $100 million fund. Bacow wrote that some of the money will be made available for immediate use, while the rest will be held in an endowment to sustain efforts long-term.
“I recognize that this is a significant commitment, and for good reason,” he wrote. “Slavery and its legacy have been a part of American life for more than 400 years. The work of further redressing its persistent effects will require our sustained and ambitious efforts for years to come.”
The seven recommendations in the report “seek to remedy harms to descendants, to our community and the nation, and to campus life and learning,” the committee wrote.
The report recommends that Harvard continue to publicly acknowledge and research its ties to slavery; engage with direct descendants of people who were enslaved by Harvard affiliates; and partner with other schools and nonprofit organizations to eliminate inequities in education stemming from centuries of slavery, with a focus on the American South and the Caribbean.
Efforts to identify direct descendants are ongoing, Radcliffe Institute Dean and Committee Chair Tomiko Brown-Nagin said in an interview Monday.
“We believe that Harvard’s intellectual, reputational, and financial resources should be marshaled in its efforts to remedy the harms of the University’s ties to slavery, just as past representatives of Harvard deployed these same resources and caused harm,” the committee wrote.
Harvard’s efforts follow commitments by peer institutions to address historical ties to slavery. In 2020, Brown University permanently endowed a $10 million fund to finance high-quality educational opportunities at Providence, R.I., public schools, which serve a large number of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Glasgow, among others, have similarly established endowments and scholarship funds.
The report called on Harvard to partner with other institutions, particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The committee recommended the creation of a new exchange program for juniors at Harvard College and various HBCUs and encouraged the provision of financial support to enable HBCU faculty to go on sabbatical.
The committee’s recommendations extended beyond higher education. The report also suggested Harvard provide high-quality educational opportunities “to support historically marginalized children and youth from birth through high school and college.”
Several proposals encouraged the University to fund projects that engage with Harvard’s legacy of slavery through research, curricula, and “a permanent and imposing physical memorial, convening space, or both.” Acknowledging how slavery in New England began with the enslavement of Native Americans, the fifth recommendation specifically urged Harvard to address its ties to the enslavement of Indigenous people.
Former Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow will lead an implementation committee to realize the report’s recommendations, Bacow wrote in the Tuesday announcement. The new committee will decide how the $100 million fund will be spent, according to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton.
—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.
—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.
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