Harvard devotes $100m to closing educational gap caused by slavery
President says institution has ‘helped to perpetuate racial oppression and exploitation’ as it establishes endowment fund
Harvard University is setting aside $100m for an endowment fund and other measures to close the educational, social and economic gaps that are legacies of slavery and racism, according to an email the university’s president sent to all students, faculty and staff on Tuesday.
The email from Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, included a link to a 100-page report by his university’s 14-member committee on Harvard and the legacy of slavery and acknowledged that the elite institution “helped to perpetuate … racial oppression and exploitation”.
The panel was chaired by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a legal historian and constitutional law expert who is dean of Harvard’s interdisciplinary Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The email and the report were released to Reuters.
The move comes amid a wider conversation about redressing the impacts of centuries of slavery, discrimination and racism. Some people have called for financial or other reparations.
The report laid out a history of enslaved people toiling on the campus and of the university benefiting from the slave trade and industries linked to slavery after slavery was outlawed in Massachusetts in 1783, 147 years after Harvard’s founding.
The report also documents Harvard excluding Black students and its scholars advocating racism.
While Harvard employed notable figures among abolitionists and in the civil rights movement, the report said: “The nation’s oldest institution of higher education … helped to perpetuate the era’s racial oppression and exploitation.”
The report’s authors recommended offering descendants of people enslaved at Harvard educational and other support so they “can recover their histories, tell their stories, and pursue empowering knowledge”.
Other recommendations included that the Ivy League school fund summer programs to bring students and faculty from long-underfunded historically Black colleges and universities to Harvard, and to send Harvard students and faculty to the institutions, known as HBCUs, such as Howard University, in Washington DC.
In his email, Bacow said a committee would explore transforming the recommendations into action and that a university governing board had authorized $100m for implementation, with some of the funds held in an endowment.
“Slavery and its legacy have been a part of American life for more than 400 years,” Bacow wrote. “The work of further redressing its persistent effects will require our sustained and ambitious efforts for years to come.”
Other US institutions of higher learning have created funds in recent years to address legacies of slavery.
A law enacted in Virginia last year requires five public state universities to create scholarships for descendants of people enslaved by the institutions.