Case Studies

A Forced Reckoning

The Harvard shield, featuring the word Veritas, on an ornate iron gate.
Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard University Photographer

This fictional case explores the challenges of engaging students in learning about Harvard University’s connection to the institution of slavery. What responsibility does the University have to teach this history, and what are our personal responsibilities to learn? How might different approaches to teaching this history promote versus impeding equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging on campus?

Case Description

The report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery reveals the University’s multifaceted connections to the institution of slavery. With this history out in the open, we must ask ourselves, “What next?”

In this fictional case set at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, five Harvard students discuss an elective history of science lecture highlighting Harvard’s involvement with the development of race science. One student is particularly rattled by the lecture and his ignorance on the topic; he wonders why all students aren’t required to learn this material. Some of his peers question whether mandatory teaching about Harvard’s history would be wise, equitable, or inclusive. As the students talk, they wrestle with questions about identity, history, choice, responsibility, and the aims of a university education.

 “A Forced Reckoning” raises important questions for students, faculty, staff, and all University affiliates in light of what we have learned about Harvard and its legacy of slavery. What responsibilities fall on the University, and what are our personal responsibilities to learn? How can and should we foster engagement with these histories in a way that also promotes equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging for all?

Resources for Educators and Facilitators

Download “A Forced Reckoning” case study.

Download “A Forced Reckoning” readers theater. We often use reader’s theater for professional development sessions, workshops, and other one-off events. This version is designed to be read aloud with different audience members voicing the different characters. After you “perform” the case together, you can then discuss it just as you would discuss the narrative version of the case.

Download “A Forced Reckoning” facilitators guide.

Download "A Forced Reckoning" normative case discussion presentation.

Download "Leveraging Norms for Challenging Conversations" guide.