December 7, 2014
Dear Dean Minow and the Harvard Law School Administration:
This campus and the nation erupted in outrage when grand juries failed to indict Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. These recent events highlight that intolerance in America continues to cost us countless lives at the hands of law enforcement. We have no faith in our justice system, which systematically oppresses black and brown people. We are afraid for our lives and for the lives of our families. We are in pain. And we are tired.
We have been visibly distressed and actively engaged throughout this public national crisis. The administration has remained silent.
We led rallies, held vigils, and published an oped. You were silent on this issue. We petitioned the government, served as legal observers, created spaces of solidarity, drafted model legislation, and marched through the streets of Boston and Cambridge. You remained silent on this issue. We spent countless hours leveraging our legal educations, and utilizing our platform and privilege as students of this institution. And all we have heard from the administration is deafening silence.
Your silence denies humanity to the lives lost and minimizes the gravity of the palpable anguish looming over campus. Like many across the country, we are traumatized. Just because this racial terror is systemically reproduced and normalized through repeated fidelity to the so called rule of law, it does not mean the disruption is any less traumatic than a tragic bombing. The fact that you refuse to openly acknowledge this adds to our distress. Your silence is a signal that Harvard Law School is indifferent to the welfare of many of its students.
We can’t breathe.
Yale Law School provided grief counselors and commended the peaceful protests taking place on campus. Stanford Law School openly supported a university wide email declaring that “Black lives matter.” Columbia Law School set an example one that we implore you to follow by quickly responding to its students’ requests. Our peer institutions have made efforts to stand on the right side of history. We challenge Harvard Law School to be not merely a school of law, but also a school of justice.
Because this national tragedy implicates the legal system to which we have chosen to dedicate our lives, it presents us with a fundamental crisis of conscience and demands our immediate attention. Our choice to stand for justice rather than sit and prepare for exams is necessary in the context of a movement fighting for the lives that have been lost and continue to be at stake. This sacrifice is small. The words of Columbia Law School student leadership illustrate our sentiments: “In being asked to prepare for and take our exams in this moment, we are being asked to perform incredible acts of disassociation that have led us to question our place in this school community and the legal community at large.” You cannot require that we forego joining the country in its demand for justice, and instead dedicate our energy in this moment to understanding and replicating “the same legal maneuvers and language on our exams . . . that w[ere] used to deny justice to so many Black and Brown bodies.”
Harvard Law School has policies and procedures in place for students experiencing a personal emergency that interferes with an exam or immediate pre-exam preparation. This is more than a personal emergency. This is a national emergency.
Furthermore, the Harvard Law School Handbook of Academic Policies expresses the school’s commitment to providing “an environment of trust and mutual respect, free expression and inquiry, and a commitment to truth, excellence, and lifelong learning.” Your failure to prioritize the importance and value of all lives and the mental health of your students violates these policies. The presence of armed HUPD officers at our peaceful community meetings, where students were collectively grieving and supporting each other, violated our community principles.
As student leaders of diverse communities at Harvard Law School, we share the sentiments of our peers at Columbia: “[W]e have been asked to bear the burden of educating the broader community about issues that have wreaked havoc on our psyches and lives, with some support and some dehumanizing moments of dismissal by our peers and faculty. . . . We will not continue to make sacrifices in the name of informing the broader school community of our struggles without, in turn, demanding that our community care for us too.”
We need your support, and therefore, we expect the following:
1. Address the Student Body
End the deafening silence. Issue a statement to the Harvard Law School community acknowledging this national crisis.
2. Grant Exam Extensions
Give students the opportunity to reschedule their exams in good faith and at their own discretion between the period of December 20th and January 15th.
Delaying exams is not without precedent. In 1970, Harvard Law School faculty voted to delay all exams in response to demands by students participating in antiwar protests.
3. Provide Student Support
Recognize our trauma as legitimate and worthy of response. We call for faculty to hold special office hours and for the administration to make culturally competent grief and trauma counselors available in the final weeks of the semester.
4. Host Ongoing Discussions, Forums, and Safe Spaces
This is a wake up call. Harvard Law School can and must do more to facilitate conversations about injustice and inequality on this campus and beyond it. We ask that these conversations take place in our classrooms, in schoolsanctioned forums, and in safe spaces created by the administration.
Dean Minow and the Harvard Law School administration, we write to you from a place of crisis but also from a place of love and concern for ourselves and for our institution. We look forward to continuing to work with you to create a Harvard Law School environment in which all students feel welcomed, valued, and supported.
Harvard Law School Affinity Group Coalition:
Harvard Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Executive Board
Harvard Black Law Students Association
Harvard Middle Eastern Law Students Association
Harvard Muslim Law Students Association
Harvard Native American Law Students Association
Harvard Law School Chapter Advocates for Human Rights
Harvard Environmental Law Society
Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice
Harvard Law School Feminist Coalition
Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine
Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Harvard Law Students for Sustainable Investment
Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project
Harvard Student Representative Board, Executive Officers
National Lawyers Guild
Students for Inclusion
The Harvard Asia Law Society
Unbound: Harvard Journal of the Legal Left