Harvard Law School to drop official shield after coming under fire for slavery links

The shield had been a controversial symbol that many students wanted removed from official use

Harvard law school is set to retire its official shield due to its links with slavery, following pressure from students.

A committee made up of faculty and students at the institution has advised the Harvard Corporation that the shield – modelled on the family crest of 18th century slaveholder Isaac Royall – should not be used as an official symbol of the law school.

 

Following a bequest by Royall to the law school in 1781, his family crest was made into the school’s official shield in 1937 – a move the committee said would not have been welcomed today.

In a letter backing the committee’s decision, Dean Martha Minnow wrote: “I endorse the committee’s recommendation to retire [the shield]. There are complex issues involved in preserving the histories of places and institutions with ties to past injustices, but several elements make retiring the shield less controverted than some other issues about names, symbols, and the past.

“First, the shield is a symbol whose primary purpose is to identify and express who we mean to be. 

“Second, it is not an anchoring part of our history: it was created in 1936 for a University celebration, used occasionally for decades and used more commonly only recently, and does not extend back to the origin of the School or even much beyond recent memory. 

“Third, there is no donor whose intent would be undermined; the shield itself involves no resources entrusted in our care.”

The shield’s use had been under fire for several months from a group of law students known as Royall Must Fall, who demanded Harvard drop the crest from use, Harvard Law Today reported.

The 12-member committee ruled 10-2 that the shield should no longer be used to represent the law school, also stating that ‘the Law School would not today honor Isaac Royall and his bequest by taking his crest as its official symbol’.

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