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‘Sack the Sacklers’: Students Urge Harvard to Remove Sackler Name for a Class Assignment

M.C. Hanafee LaPlante '25, middle, speaks at a protest at Sackler Museum Saturday afternoon.
M.C. Hanafee LaPlante '25, middle, speaks at a protest at Sackler Museum Saturday afternoon. By Hailey E. Krasnikov
By Neeraja S. Kumar and Annabel M. Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

Nine Harvard students protested Harvard’s display of Arthur M. Sackler’s name on buildings and the University’s ties to the infamous Sackler family, the former owners of Purdue Pharma, at the Harvard Art Museums for a final class assignment on Saturday.

The students handed out pamphlets to visitors to the Arthur M. Sackler Museum that detailed information on Sackler — who donated $10.7 million to the University in 1985 — and listed the names of victims of the opioid epidemic.

The students also delivered a speech in the museum’s foyer where they demanded “transparency and a commitment to ethical practices” from the University and urged Harvard to “sack the Sacklers.” Their speech was met with applause from onlookers at the museum.

The demonstration was sparked by a final project that Jason B. Silverstein, Harvard Medical School lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine, assigned for his course, Anthropology 2796: “The Opioid Epidemic in the United States: From Abandonment to Accompaniment.”

For the course, which discusses the Sackler family’s role in the opioid crisis, Silverstein said he asked students “to go out” and “to do a creative project that would care for the memories of people who have died.”

Four students from Silverstein’s class opted to organize the demonstration for the assignment alongside five of their friends.

In an interview with The Crimson, one of the four students, Abhi S. Patel ’25, said that his and his group members’ “philosophy is that the best way to care for the memory of the dead is to seek justice.”

Though Silverstein declined to comment on the demonstration itself, he said the students’ arguments were “very compelling” and “quite correct.”

“What they’re asking us to consider is whether we ought to ever accept donations from, not just the Sackler family, but any pharmaceutical company,” Silverstein said. “They’re asking us to consider whether or not we ought to accept donations from any company that is profiting off of the pain of others.”

The demonstration comes nearly a year after students and activists organized a die-in at the Museums for a similar cause.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton said that “the university has established a process for considering de-naming spaces, programs, or other entities,” and adding that a denaming proposal for both the Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Building is currently being reviewed by administrators.

The Sackler family owned Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that developed and marketed the painkiller OxyContin, though Arthur Sackler died before the drug was released.

After Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 while facing thousands of lawsuits, the Sackler family settlement in 2023 required the family to pay $6 billion to combat opioid addiction while also shielding them from personal civil liability related to the lawsuits.

The agreement was blocked by the Supreme Court in Dec. 2023.

“In the opioid epidemic, the Scarface or the Walter White is the Sackler family — except now the Sackler family faces zero threat of criminal prosecution and were able to funnel away billions of dollars,” Silverstein said.

In addition to calling the University’s continuous display of the Sackler name “outrageous,” Patel said he and his group members would like to see the University stop “accepting money from Big Pharma.”

After cutting ties with pharmaceutical companies, Patel said, the University should “then remove the Sackler name in order to honor the memory of those that have died in the opioid epidemic.”

After seeing his students’ projects, Silverstein called their work “incredibly moving” and “powerful.”

“This idea of caring for memories of the dead, I sadly don’t think is something I’ve really seen in many courses. It would be nice to see it in more,” Silverstein said.

—Staff writer Neeraja S. Kumar can be reached at neeraja.kumar@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Annabel M. Yu can be reached at annabel.yu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @annabelmyu.

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