Harvard University released a report last week about the institution’s legacy of slavery and racism and pledged to spend $100 million to fund programs addressing its past wrongs.
The findings come some three years after Harvard President Larry Bacow began the initiative in 2019. On April 26, Bacow announced the findings and provided his recommendations for the university.
“The truth is that slavery played a significant part in our institutional history. The truth is that the legacy of slavery continues to influence the world in the form of disparities in education, health, wealth, income, social mobility, and almost any other metric we might use to measure equality,” said Bacow in a video announcement.
The report, which is publicly available, found that between the years 1636, when the school was first founded, to 1783, when slavery officially ended in Massachusetts, some 70 people were enslaved by leaders and employees of the school. The report said that the number is “almost certainly an undercount.”
“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,” the report stated.
In addition to the statistics, the report included the names of some of the slaves and those who enslaved them. Noting that the university profited greatly from slavery and received financial assistance from slavers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, who were its donors.
The report includes donors who participated greatly in the slave trade such as textile companies in the Northeast and descendent communities in the Caribbean, as well as the university's connections to Southern plantations.
As a result of its findings, the university recommended:
“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.”
The university committee responsible for the recommendations is calling Harvard’s actions “reparative,” but did not call for direct payments to the descendants of slaves. However, the community recommended that Harvard should try to find the direct descendants of any slaves associated with the school.
Furthermore, the report is described as “voluntary” and not being done for any legal reasons, given that there are no laws in place mandating reparations.