Recommendations to the President and Fellows of Harvard College
The damage caused by Harvard’s entanglements with slavery and its legacies warrant action—efforts to remedy the persistent educational and social harms that human bondage caused to descendants, to the campus community, and to surrounding cities, the Commonwealth, and the nation. Such action cannot possibly address the many complex and damaging legacies of slavery in and beyond the United States, but nonetheless, action is vital. Harvard should take responsibility for its past, and it should leverage its strengths in the pursuit of meaningful repair.
If undertaken, the actions that the Committee recommends would be voluntary, rather than the result of legal obligation.Go to footnote 722 detail But the absence of a legal requirement does not negate the importance of undertaking these efforts, nor does it diminish the moral case for action. Institutions often take steps that uphold their values absent any formal requirement to do so. Harvard, for example, routinely donates services and provides other benefits to communities and organizations in Greater Boston in pursuit of “a vibrant and shared future.”Go to footnote 723 detail And in recent years, dozens of other universities, along with corporations, churches, and municipalities, have instituted remedies for complicity with slavery, all on a voluntary basis.Go to footnote 724 detail
It is particularly appropriate for universities to take such steps: American society depends on universities to reflect and promote its highest ideals. The gap between the missions and values of universities—the pursuit of knowledge, truth seeking, integrity, and opportunity—and the reality of involvement with slavery is stark. And while a university’s participation in human bondage through direct ownership or buying and selling of people might be deemed the highest level of culpability, financial entanglements and intellectual leadership that lent universities’ prestige to theories of racial hierarchy have also resulted in lasting harm.Go to footnote 725 detail That universities continued to exclude or discriminate against descendants of enslaved people into the middle of the 20th century deepens their complicity with this history of oppression.
Each of these forms of culpability—direct participation, financial ties, intellectual leadership, and discrimination—applies to Harvard, where the routine admission of descendants of slavery is a relatively recent phenomenon in a 385-year history. And the responsibility for involvement with slavery is shared across the institution—by presidents, fellows of the Corporation, overseers, faculty, staff, donors, students, and namesakes memorialized all over campus.
Several principles underpin the committee’s recommendations:
To be meaningful, remedies must be visible, lasting, grounded in a sustained process of engagement, and linked to the nature of the damage done. Harvard’s efforts should also be commensurate with this University’s place in the American educational landscape. We must lead in this realm, no less than in others.
Harvard must set a powerful example as it reckons with its own past. We must pursue not only truth, vital though that is, but also reconciliation. Doing so requires a range of actions—visible and continuing—that address the harms of slavery and its legacies, many of which still reverberate today, affecting descendants of slavery in the community and indeed the nation.
These actions must include monetary and nonmonetary efforts.Go to footnote 726 detail Slavery was a system that, through violence, deprived the enslaved of the value of their own labor, creating a persistent multigenerational racial wealth gap that continues to disadvantage descendants of the enslaved. And the legacies of slavery—exclusion, segregation, marginalization, criminalization, disenfranchisement, and more—compounded its damage. The economic and social costs of categorical exclusion from and discrimination in education—not only but perhaps especially at Harvard—are profound.
Harvard is not alone in this work, nor is it first. The actions and experiences of other universities establish informative precedent. Brown University, the first among the Ivy League to formally acknowledge its ties to slavery, under the leadership of President Ruth J. Simmons, led the way. Years ago, Brown made significant investments in support of local educational institutions, including a $10 million endowment to promote academic excellence for K–12 students in Providence, of which approximately $2 million was raised from donors, with the remaining $8 million authorized by the Brown Corporation. Brown’s actions also included loan forgiveness for graduate students who serve urban schools and students in the local area, fellowships in support of slavery studies, faculty fellowships for youth outreach, and more. More recently, the Princeton Theological Seminary pledged to create a $27.6 million reparative endowment, established scholarship funds, and hired new staff. The University of Glasgow pledged £20 million to research slavery and its legacies around the world. The University of Virginia erected a $7 million memorial, built a new dormitory named for enslaved people who labored on campus, and established scholarships and fellowships for descendants of slavery. And in 2019, Georgetown University announced a fund that would raise $400,000 annually to benefit the descendants of enslaved people that the college sold in 1838, following a nonbinding referendum passed by Georgetown students.Go to footnote 727 detail In keeping with its position in higher education, Harvard should make a significant monetary commitment, and it should invest in remedies of equal or greater breadth than other universities.
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. Some of the committee’s recommendations, below, are for wholly new endeavors; many others seek to build upon important existing programs and partnerships at Harvard, which we suggest should be strengthened and expanded. All must be sustained over time, and metrics should be established to ensure accountability. Through lasting efforts institutionalized as integral parts of Harvard’s culture and curriculum, the University can create new legacies of service, innovation, equity, and leadership. We can renew our commitment to Veritas, and imbue it with deeper meaning.
We present seven broad recommendations that seek to remedy harms to descendants, to our community and the nation, and to campus life and learning.
Recommendation 1: Engage and Support Descendant Communities by Leveraging Harvard’s Excellence in Education
We recommend that the University leverage its scholarly excellence and expertise in education to confront systemic and enduring inequities that impact descendant communities in the United States—including in the American South, locus of the system of plantation slavery that produced cotton and fed the lucrative textile manufacturing companies of the Northeast—as well as descendant communities in the Caribbean.Go to footnote 728 detail The University should address these inequities in close and genuine partnership with institutions such as schools, community colleges, tribal colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations already engaged in this work.Go to footnote 729 detail
We recommend a particular focus on the creation, expansion, and dissemination of world-class learning opportunities—including curricular and pedagogical innovations, expanded access to existing resources, and outstanding teacher training—especially to support historically marginalized children and youth from birth through high school and college. Harvard’s pathbreaking work in early childhood development; in K–12 civic, moral, and social-emotional learning; in arts and STEM education; in higher education access and success; and in other fields could be leveraged to support children, educators, and parents in descendant communities locally nationally, and internationally. This could include offerings modeled on the Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy of the Harvard Graduate School of Education or Harvard’s Crimson Summer Academy.
This pursuit might be facilitated or enhanced by taking advantage of the University’s new digital education nonprofit, established to “advance inclusion by driving innovations in learning that enrich and support people at all stages of education” through “partnerships with organizations that are doing outstanding work to identify, address, and close learning gaps.”Go to footnote 730 detail
In creating and implementing such programs, we urge collaboration with experts outside of Harvard. We particularly suggest partnerships with local colleges and nonprofits engaged in work with demonstrated efficacy. These institutions disproportionately serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom likely are descendants of enslaved people.
Finally, we suggest that the University broadly share what it learns through these partnerships. Harvard should, with its partner institutions, seek to establish and model best practices to support other historically white institutions that wish to address systemic and enduring educational inequities rooted in slavery and its legacies.
Recommendation 2: Honor Enslaved People through Memorialization, Research, Curricula, and Knowledge Dissemination
In pursuit of truth and reconciliation, we recommend that the University create opportunities for all members of the Harvard community, especially students, to acknowledge and engage with the history of slavery and its legacies at Harvard. Toward this end, we recommend that the University recognize and honor the enslaved people whose labor facilitated the founding, growth, and evolution of Harvard through a permanent and imposing physical memorial, convening space, or both.
Moreover, in an effort to invest in current and future generations of scholars within and outside of the University, we recommend that Harvard—already home to many scholars and programmatic endeavors related to slavery and its legacies in and beyond education—provide ongoing financial support for scholarship and curricula that seek to understand, analyze, and promote solutions to persistent racial inequities that plague descendant communities.
We further recommend that the University provide ongoing financial support for the production of knowledge and curricula about Harvard’s ties to slavery and for the dissemination of such knowledge to alumni and members of the public as well as to students, staff, and faculty across the University.
Recommendation 3: Develop Enduring Partnerships with Black Colleges and Universities
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have educated a significant share of African American professionals who have helped lead the country in creating a more equitable society, one that acknowledges that the intelligence, talents, and contributions of all groups must be recognized, nurtured, and drawn upon for the benefit of the nation. Thurgood Marshall, former associate justice of the Supreme Court; Martin Luther King Jr., minister and civil rights activist; and the Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison were all educated at HBCUs. The quality and importance of these institutions cannot be denied.
Yet, as a result of the nation’s history of separate and unequal systems of education, HBCUs have often been underfunded and excluded from the benefits that many other universities enjoy. In spite of this long-standing disparity in treatment, Harvard, like other major universities, has greatly benefitted from the enrollment of HBCU alumni in its graduate and professional programs. These students have added immeasurably to the quality of education afforded all students at Harvard and have expanded knowledge and understanding in many disciplines.
In light of the invaluable role of HBCUs in the educational landscape and the persistent underfunding of these colleges, we believe the University should develop enduring partnerships with HBCUs. We suggest that it do so through the expansion of existing collaborations between Harvard’s schools and research-focused HBCUs.Go to footnote 731 detail
To promote enriching and long-lasting bonds between the universities, we recommend that Harvard encourage and fund summer, semester, or yearlong visiting appointments to Harvard by interested faculty from HBCU partner institutions and similar visiting appointments by Harvard faculty to HBCU partners. We also recommend that the University encourage and subsidize summer, semester, or yearlong visits to Harvard by interested students who are juniors at HBCU partner institutions and by interested Harvard students in their junior years to HBCU partners, through a new “Du Bois Scholars Program.” These faculty and student visits would promote intellectual exchange and research collaborations between Harvard and HBCUs, particularly in STEM fields, and would also financially support HBCU partner institutions in two ways: first, by providing to Du Bois scholars who visit Harvard as juniors the generous financial aid routinely available to Harvard students, thus in many cases reducing overall college costs, and, second, by providing to faculty of HBCUs the financial support for sabbaticals routinely available to Harvard faculty.
Similarly, we recommend the University promote and fund visiting fellowships for affiliates of Harvard libraries and affiliates of HBCU partner libraries, efforts that would promote archival preservation, digitization, and other collaborations to document and safeguard African American history.
Finally, we suggest that the University broadly share what it learns through these partnerships. Harvard should, with its HBCU partners, seek to establish and model best practices to other historically white institutions that wish to address systemic and enduring educational inequities rooted in slavery and its legacies.
Recommendation 4: Identify, Engage, and Support Direct Descendants
We recommend that the University endeavor to identify the direct descendants of enslaved individuals who labored on Harvard’s campus and of those who were enslaved by Harvard leadership, faculty, or staff. The University’s acknowledgement of direct descendants’ lineage, through a Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery Remembrance Program, is a vital step in its quest for truth, reconciliation, and repair.
We further recommend that, in recognition of this lineage, the University engage with these descendants through dialogue, programming, information sharing, relationship building, and educational support. Through such efforts, these descendants can recover their histories, tell their stories, and pursue empowering knowledge.
Recommendation 5: Honor, Engage, and Support Native Communities
Indigenous history has special significance to Harvard’s founding and evolution. Slavery in New England began with the enslavement of Native Americans, and Harvard leaders and staff members enslaved and sold Indigenous people as well as people of African descent. Moreover, Harvard’s Indian College, which reflected both political and financial expediency and the broader colonial effort to Christianize, enrolled just five Native students, only one of whom received a degree in his lifetime. Legacies of Indigenous slavery and colonialism, while not discussed at length in this report, persist in Massachusetts and across the United States.
Recognizing this special significance, we recommend that the University provide financial support for research, dissemination of knowledge, recruitment of students from tribal communities, and other reparative efforts benefiting members of New England’s Native communities.
We further recommend that the University organize a landmark conference, under the auspices of the Harvard University Native American Program, to advance a national dialogue on the history and legacies of Indigenous slavery and colonialism in the United States, catalyze deep research, and establish new partnerships with Indigenous communities.
Recommendation 6: Establish an Endowed Legacy of Slavery Fund to Support the University’s Reparative Efforts
The profound harm caused by the University’s entanglements with slavery and its legacies cannot be valued in monetary terms alone. Nevertheless, the commitment of significant resources can and does signify Harvard’s acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a responsibility to undertake a sustained process of repair: financial expenditures are a necessary predicate to and foundation for redress.
Therefore, we recommend the creation of a Legacy of Slavery Fund—generously funded, preserved in an endowment, and strategically invested—to support implementation of these recommendations.
Recommendation 7: Ensure Institutional Accountability
Finally, we recommend that the University establish an accountable institutional apparatus fully empowered to lead—during an implementation phase of this Presidential Initiative—the operationalization of the Committee’s recommendations and coordination of all Harvard Schools’ participation in these efforts, in the spirit of One Harvard. This includes a commitment to ongoing engagement, dialogue, information sharing, and relationship building with community members and stakeholders in Cambridge and the greater Boston area in order to foster discussion and solicit input on the long path forward.
We further suggest annual reporting on and evaluation of the implementation process and, if necessary, the revision of these recommendations in ways consistent with their goals.
Harvard’s past entanglements with slavery and its legacies cannot be undone, but the present and future are ours—as a University community—to shape. The history revealed here and the committee’s recommendations for action can inspire renewed commitment to truth, institutional reform, and community engagement. Through these endeavors we can advance both the University’s commitment to the transformative power of education and our mission to develop ethical leaders who respect the “rights, differences, and dignity” of all people.Go to footnote 733 detail