Harvard has been involved for years in the difficult task of exploring the University’s historical ties to slavery through a range of programming and scholarship supported by the Office of the President, by faculty, and by students across campus. Now, a new University-wide effort will be devoted to that work.
Harvard President Larry Bacow on Thursday announced creation of “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery,” an interdisciplinary initiative that will build on the University’s earlier undertakings. In a letter to the Harvard community, Bacow cited the vital importance of continuing to engage with Harvard’s history, of creating cohesion and connections across the University around the issue, of bringing a wide range of voices and rigorous academic research into the conversation, and of developing programming to engage the community in discussion.
Bacow named Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, to chair a University committee made up of faculty from across Harvard’s Schools and disciplines who will give shape and direction to the effort. Radcliffe will be the anchoring space for Harvard’s work in this area over the coming years.
“President Bacow has said that Harvard has a responsibility to use its immense resources, assets, ideas, and people to address difficult problems and painful divisions. I share these same ambitions for the work of Radcliffe,” said Brown-Nagin, who is also Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, and professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“It is entirely in keeping with our mission to focus on these issues. We need to articulate our values; we need to be at the forefront of research about inequality and remedies to inequality. What happens at Harvard matters. We are a leader in higher education, and we should be a leader more broadly — especially at this time when inequality and the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow [laws] are topics of public concern.”
Brown-Nagin said the task is consistent with Radcliffe’s newly announced strategic plan, “Radcliffe Engaged,” “whose overarching vision is to ensure that we are doing work that has public impact and supports applied research that engages with pressing issues. Certainly the study of slavery and its impact falls within that remit.”
In his letter, Bacow said the new initiative “will build on the important work undertaken thus far, provide greater structure and cohesion to a wide array of University efforts, and give additional dimension to our understanding of the impact of slavery. This work will allow us to continue to understand and address the enduring legacy of slavery within our University community.”