Victim of alleged hate crime says ‘Harvard Law School is not the enemy’
Harvard Law School professor Randall L. Kennedy spoke Monday night at a roundtable discussion, urging students to “avoid needlessly alienating people” when addressing racial violence.
“We need to avoid alienating people who might be our allies,” Kennedy said. “Unfortunately, I think some of that is happening at the Law School. Harvard Law School is not the enemy. And if you are constantly treating Harvard Law School as the enemy, you’ll make it the enemy.”
Last November, Kennedy was one of several professors whose portrait in a corridor of esteemed black alumni and faculty was taped over, which student activists were quick to call a hate crime. Kennedy, however, published an op-ed in The New York Times encouraging students to wait for the results of the investigation before making assumptions.
“The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined. Perhaps the defacer is part of the law school community. But maybe not. Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors, but maybe it was meant to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis,” Kennedy wrote.
The incident remains unresolved but Kennedy continues to warn student activists against exaggerating its impact.
Kennedy does not have the support of his fellow faculty members, some of whom have published articles in response to his claims. Jacob Lipton and Jon Hanson, coordinators of Harvard Law School’s Systemic Justice Project, replied to Kennedy in The Harvard Law Record.
“Although Randy is unperturbed by the black tape recently placed over his photograph, he is quite concerned about something else: the potentially destructive effects of taking the outrage and demands of some students at Harvard Law School – and at universities around the country – too seriously,” they wrote, before criticizing Kennedy for “trivializing the experience, insights, and courage of the students who perceive something that he doesn’t.”
Even some of Kennedy’s own students took to the press to criticize his analysis of the incident. Jacob Loup, a third-year law student, called Kennedy’s response a “formidable obstacle to change.”
“So when law schools presented with roomfuls of pliant young minds acquiesce in reducing major areas of law to “dry, technical issues,” they play a role in entrenching a system with racism in its marrow. For well-meaning people in certain positions, like those who teach tomorrow’s political leaders and wealth holders and judicial decision-makers, there arguably comes a point where dispassion amounts to endorsement,’ he added.
Other students, however, have stood up for Kennedy, saying they “wholeheartedly agree with him.”
“My agreement might be based on ignorance, but the presence of people of color on campus and their success after they graduate is representative of the truth that Harvard isn’t our enemy,” student Tynan Jackson told The Harvard Crimson.
Another student told The Crimson he thinks Kennedy’s perspective is essential to an authentic discussion about racism on campus.
“Quite frankly, I want there to be discussions that stir the pot,” student Michael Richard said.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski