The Coalition at Harvard Law School

Month: December, 2014

Letter to Dean Minow and Harvard Law School Administration

December 7, 2014
10:30pm

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.

Signed,
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
La Alianza
Lambda
Supero

In support:

ACLU
Harvard Law School Chapter Advocates for Human Rights
Harvard Defenders
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

Coalition Response

December 8, 2014
12:48pm

Dear Dean Minow, Dean Cosgrove, and the Harvard Law School Administration:

Thank you for your replies to our letter. We appreciate your quick responses. We are pleased that you have now decided to join this ongoing conversation, and have committed to taking additional steps regarding our requests for student support and discussion about these issues on campus. However, your responses did not adequately convey your intention to timely meet all the needs of our communities.

We have included below this email our assessment of how your emails addressed our stated needs (Appendix A). We are particularly concerned with the lack of direct response to two of our requests:

(1) Our request for the HLS Administration to properly address the entire student body in a manner that recognizes students’ trauma as legitimate; and

(2) Our request for exam extensions for students who are traumatized by this tragedy and who have felt duty­bound to dedicate their time mobilizing for justice.

In response to our concerns, we request that:

(1) Dean Minow and Dean Cosgrove meet the example set by our peer institutions by sending an email that directly addresses our concerns. Attached are examples of emails Dean Minow and Dean Cosgrove sent to the student body following other national tragedies (Appendix B). National events call for an official Law School response. This is an important movement in the history of race relations in the United States. In light of that, we request that you send an email addressing the student body that reflects the seriousness of the situation. An email that reflects that students’ feelings are legitimate. An email that communicates that you support students, and that their possible inability to concentrate on studying is not their fault.

(2) The administration immediately provide a transparent and sensitive process for affected students to delay their exams. Based on the gravity of this event, we believe a process other than asking individual students to go through the time­-consuming and incredibly stressful process of explaining their individual trauma. Unless you act now, you will allow the systematic under performance of a great many students of color and allies on this campus on their exams. We cannot walk away from our pain, and we cannot ignore our call to act against the injustice that threatens our families and our commitment to the justice system. Without this accommodation, we worry that this injustice will create more injustice, as our constituent communities have been placed at a disadvantage compared to their peers. We write also as upperclassmen leaders of our communities, who are particularly worried for our 1Ls, whose grades are so important to their future careers. We do not want to see an entire class of our students walk away from this traumatic time in their lives with any more life­long scars.

We look forward to working with you in the future on this and other issues important to our communities, and we appreciate that you are so willing to hear us and work with us. However, because exam period is rapidly approaching, we ask that you respond to us, and to the school community, as quickly as possible. Please respond by 5 pm today (Monday, December 8).

We need your support. We need it now.

Sincerely,
HLS Affinity Group Coalition

APPENDIX A

Requests and Administrative Responses

1. Address the Student Body: End the deafening silence. Issue a statement to the Harvard Law

School community acknowledging this national crisis.

Administrative response: prompt email from Dean Cosgrove to students; a forthcoming op­ed by Dean Minow co­authored with Dean Post of Yale Law School.

Remaining needs: official communication from Dean Minow, in her capacity as Dean, to students as a community recognizing our action and the immediacy of our pain; acknowledgement that this is a campus­ and nation­wide crisis, not a problem in individual students’ minds.

Assessment: Not met.

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 anti­​war protests.

Administrative response: invitation to speak with Lakshmi Clark­McClendon about individual needs; session on how to focus on finals preparation.

Remaining needs: assurance that extensions are a real possibility for students, that they are forthcoming in a significant number of cases, and that there will be a process that bypasses the time­consuming and personally draining individualized extension process.

Assessment: Not met.

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.

Administrative response: session on how to focus on finals preparation; affirming emails in response to individual student leaders; offers to talk with student leaders further; advertisement of existing counseling resources.

Remaining needs: culturally competent counseling; staffing for extra individual counseling on this issue; acknowledgment that this is a legitimately traumatic moment and not a “challenge [] focusing on academic obligations.”

Assessment: Not met.

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 school­​sanctioned forums, and in safe spaces created by the administration.

Administrative response: session on focusing on exams; offer to arrange campus­wide conversations in Winter or Spring terms; offer to continue working with the HLS Affinity Group Coalition going forward.

Assessment: In progress.

APPENDIX B

Dean Minow’s Responses to Other Tragedies/Important National Events/Natural Disasters

1) Boston Bombing, 04/16/13

Dear members of the Harvard Law School community,

Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to all who were directly affected by the shocking and horrendous events that occurred yesterday during the Boston Marathon. We send our support to those who are struggling with injuries and loss, and our thanks to those who are helping in the aftermath.

I am grateful to our Dean of Students Office and our staff for quickly ascertaining that no physical harm befell members of the HLS community who participated in the marathon as runners or supporters. We can nonetheless anticipate sadness and grief reverberating through our extended family. We come together in mutual support and are heartened by words of solidarity received from all over the country and the world.

Please do not hesitate to reach out for help ­­ or urge those who may be struggling in the coming days to seek help ­­ at our Health Services. They are available around the clock, and can be reached at 617­495­5711, http://huhs.harvard.edu/HealthServices/MentalHealthServices.aspx. Harvard Chaplains are also available to offer comfort, spiritual and emotional, http://chaplains.harvard.edu/people. The Dean of Students Office welcomes students who would like to talk. Staff should not hesitate to contact the Human Resources Office for assistance, or avail themselves of help from the University’s Employee Assistance Program, http://www.employment.harvard.edu/benefits/worklife/eap.shtml.

Those of you who are still seeking information about loved ones can call the mayor’s hotline at 617­635­4500.

Yesterday, President Obama took note of the resiliency of the people of Boston. The same is true about our own community here at Harvard Law School. But resiliency does not mean that anyone should suffer in silence, alone. Thank you for reaching out to one another, and for supporting each other, during this difficult and challenging moment.

We salute the spirit of personal achievement and mutual support that imbues the Boston Marathon with global participation, and we renew our efforts to advance the freedoms and security it exemplifies.

Please do not hesitate to be in touch with Ellen Cosgrove, Marie Bowen or me in the days ahead, if you wish to share your feelings or concerns.

2) Passing of Nelson Mandela, 12/09/13

Dear members of the Harvard Law School community:

Sometimes, moments of profound loss remind us of invaluable gifts. And so it is as we join others across the world in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela.

We who have chosen to be part of the profession of law can gain much by thinking about the journey of this extraordinary individual ­­ trained as a lawyer ­­ who did so much to bend the arc of history in the direction of justice. He stood up against injustice. He paid with his liberty, under a life imprisonment sentence and spent 27 years locked up, removed from family, friends, and community. With unwavering belief in achieving enfranchisement and equal justice under law, he was able to steer a nation toward peaceful transition and ultimately to a new society built upon a new legal system. Even before his release from prison, he set in motion the processes that brought forgiveness instead of vengeance, reconciliation instead of violence, and a new constitution that is admired the world over, even as South Africa still struggles to redress wrongs and their legacies.

Not long ago, we inscribed walls of the Law School with reflections about justice across time and around the world. Included now and for the future are these words from the inaugural address of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected President:

“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that, for each, the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.”

Let us remember the gifts of Nelson Mandela ­­ the man, his struggles, his vision, and his example of forgiveness.

Sincerely, Martha

Martha Minow
Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor Harvard Law School

3) Sandy Hook Shooting, 12/17/12

On behalf of the Law School, I write about Friday’s tragic event in Newtown, Connecticut. We are heartbroken and devastated by the incomprehensible horror that befell that community, and join others in this country and around the world in sorrow. Our thoughts and our prayers go out the families, friends and colleagues of all who were lost or harmed. No words can adequately begin to heal the hearts and spirits that have been shattered, but perhaps our hopes and

condolences can contribute in some small measure to the alleviation of suffering and loss. Let us all reflect upon the lives of promise that were cut short. Just as importantly, let us also reflect upon the promise of the law, and on what we can do to use law to create and ensure a safer and a better world, especially for our children. In the coming weeks and months, I would welcome suggestions about work that the Law School could support toward these ends.

Best,
Martha Minow
Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law Harvard Law School

4) Hurricane, 11/02/12

As this challenging week ends, I would like to reach out to members of the Harvard Law School community on the U.S. East Coast and beyond who have been affected by this week’s devastating storm, and let you know that our thoughts and support are with you as we all work to recover from the considerable destruction left in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.

A storm of this magnitude was unprecedented in the Eastern corridor, and the extent of damage and disruption in afflicted areas has been simply breathtaking. A significant number of our alumni, faculty, staff, students and their loved ones have suffered misfortune during this severe weather event. Our thoughts are with those struggling now and during the challenges ahead.

With sincere gratitude, I extend thanks to the people here who were called on to work through the storm to keep our facilities, operations, dorms, student services and communications at HLS running smoothly, even as the school was closed on Monday. I have heard from students in particular how helpful it was to have people on hand.

Now, as we see the difficult road ahead for many communities dealing with the storm’s aftermath, I wonder if there are ways that we all can be helpful. In the past, through the combined efforts of student organizers, the law school community and the school’s Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, HLS raised financial support in the months following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and sent more than 30 students to the Gulf Coast the following January to do pro bono legal work and participate in relief efforts. We stand ready to facilitate the same kind of volunteerism to assist the millions of people who have suffered because of Sandy; there are many wonderful organizations that could use our help as well. The luck and relief many of us here feel gives us a chance to assist others less fortunate.

I send all good wishes for a great weekend and invite suggestions for ways we can offer help in the days and months ahead.

Dean Cosgrove’s Responses to Other Tragedies/Important National Events/Natural Disasters

1) Boston Bombing, 04/16/13 *communicated to the HLS Board of Student Advisers*

Hi­
Given yesterday’s tragic events, I wanted to check in with you. Students will respond to grief in different ways and as BSAs you may well be in a position to see a student struggling before anyone else. I want to encourage you to be extra vigilant with your students in the next week or so and please keep these resources in mind:

Health Services (available 24/7 (617­495­5711)) (http://huhs.harvard.edu/HealthServices/MentalHealthServices.aspx)

Harvard Chaplains (note – you don’t have to be religious/spiritual – they counsel anyone and they don’t prostletyze) – it’s a nice option for students who seek spiritual comfort as well as those who don’t. (http://chaplains.harvard.edu/people)

Students should always feel free to stop in to see us. Lakshmi Clark­McClendon who oversees student services and can be a terrific resource as well.

Don’t forget yourself! If you are having any difficulty with this, please connect with Yvonne, Lakshmi or me.

Ellen Cosgrove

2) Boston Bombing, 04/16/13

Hi everyone­

I am checking back with a few updates:

Candlelight Vigil

There will be a candlelight vigil tonight at 8 p.m. on the steps of Memorial Church for members of the Harvard community.

Drop In Hours at Memorial Church

The Harvard Chaplains announce that Memorial Church is open now until 8 p.m. for students to drop in. Chaplains will be present for any student who might want conversation, prayer, or just company. (I should note tha,t as an aside, while the Chaplains are happy to provide religious/spiritual support when requested, they are very clear that they do not prosthelytize and are happy to chat with all students regardless of whether the student has a spiritual identity or not.

Harvard EdCast: How to Discuss Tragedy with Children

For those of you who have children (and those who are interested in helping to support friend’s/relative’s children)
In this edition of the EdCast, Lecturer Richard Weissbourd speaks to Adjunct Lecturer Betsy Groves, founding director of the Child Witness to Violence Project, about how both parents and teachers can properly discuss with their kids the meaning and impact of the recent tragedy in Boston.

3) Hurricane, 10/28/12

Hi

Governor Patrick has declared a State of Emergency for Massachusetts in anticipation of the storm. As you might imagine, there are a number of offices working with various campus services to prepare the campus and community.

If we need to send urgent updates during the storm and aftermath, we will update the Law School’s website and send email when possible but a critical means of emergency contact is Message Me. If you haven’t already done so, register for Message Me https://messageme.harvard.edu/ so that you can receive text alerts as necessary

Before the storm, please review the University emergency page:

http://www.harvard.edu/emergency

the law school’s emergency contacts page:

http://www.law.harvard.edu/about/administration/emergency­information.html

and check out the State of Massachusetts page:

http://www.mass.gov/portal/

for additional information on the storm and emergency preparedness.

Other than that, remember to charge up all of your devices, get a flashlight if you don’t already have one (each RA in the dorms has a flashlight to assist residents), stock up on batteries, and have some non­perishable food on hand since food service may be limited in the event of a black out.

Classes are still scheduled and the plan is to keep most if not all services in place but we will keep you posted if anything changes.

4) Hurricane Follow­Up Email, 11/07/12

Following up on Dean Minow’s email, we have been fielding suggestions from many students and student organizations about potential Sandy relief efforts.

Some student organizations have already gotten started. To date, we are aware of the following:

WLA is coordinating a collection of clothing, blanket, toiletries, etc in the donation bins in the Hark
Law School Republicans are coordinating a Blood Drive on November 29th

Additional details will be posted on the calendar and on posters around the Law School.

In an effort to coordinate the activities and interests, we’ll hold a meeting of students interested in suggesting/organizing/collaborating initiatives to aid in Sandy relief.

The meeting will be held on Friday, November 9 at 12:00 in Milstein East C (lunch served).

If you can’t attend but wish to be added to the list for future emails, please email dos@law.harvard.edu.