Harvard University on Tuesday released a 134-page report detailing the school’s historical ties to slavery, with the school committing $100 million to a fund to allow scholars and students to study Harvard’s involvement in the slave trade.
“Our commitment to truth means that we must embrace it even when it makes us uncomfortable or causes us pain,” said Harvard President Lawrence Bacow in a statement accompanying the report.
“The truth is that slavery played a significant part in our institutional history,” said Bacow. “Enslaved people worked on our campus supporting our students, faculty, and staff, including several Harvard presidents. The labor of enslaved people both far and near enriched numerous donors and, ultimately, the institution. Some members of our faculty promoted ideas that gave scholarly legitimacy to concepts of racial superiority. And long after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States in 1865, Harvard continued discriminatory practices that sharply limited the presence of African Americans on our campus.”
The $100 million will be used for a number of different initiatives. It will help the school trace modern-day descendants of Harvard’s slaves, it will fund new statues and markers on campus to honor the school’s enslaved people, and it will create exchange programs with America’s historically black colleges and universities. It will also aid a collaborative program between Harvard and tribal colleges.
Last year, Jesuits at Georgetown University similarly set up a $100 million fund to pay reparations for descendants of slaves who helped build the school.
But the Harvard slavery fund stops short of funding direct payments to descendants of the school’s slaves.
Reparations “means different things to different people, so fixating on that term, I think, can be counterproductive,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, chair of the committee that produced the report, in an interview with The New York Times. Brown-Nagin is dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, as well as a professor in both law and history at Harvard.
“The university is committed to deeply meaningful and sustained remedies that will endure in perpetuity,” she told the Times. “Those remedies are focused on leveraging our expertise in education, which is consistent with our mission.”
Read the full report here.
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