Harvard University police are treating the discovery of strips of tape placed across photographs of black professors outside of a lecture hall as an act of hate, officials from the university said Thursday.
In an e-mailed statement, Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School, said police are investigating who defaced portraits of black faculty members displayed at Wasserstein Hall.
University police are “investigating the incident as a hate crime,” she said. “Expressions of hatred are abhorrent, whether they be directed at race, sex, sexual preference, gender identity, religion, or any other targets of bigotry.”
The controversy erupted as discussions of race reverberated across the campus.
Harvard President Drew Faust said in a message to the school community that it is “well beyond time” for the school to ensure it is an open and accepting community.
“We will not all always agree on the best ways forward. But we owe it to one another to shape an environment in which every one of us is fully included,” Faust wrote to Harvard students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Faust’s letter coincided with the release of a report by a Harvard committee commissioned last year to assess the university’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. Faust praised the findings of the 37-page report.
The document gave several broad recommendations and cited examples of how some students feel marginalized. One program that was intended to help needy students backfired instead, it said.
The “student event fund” program was created to allow poor students to attend up to five campus events each semester for free. But the report found that students who received free tickets had to enter events through specially marked entrances that students jokingly called the “welfare line” or the “poor kids line.” The report recommended doing away with those special lines.
It also recommended adding more diverse faculty and more courses in some disciplines, such as the sciences, that address diversity. Focus groups found science, engineering, technology, and math programs are less welcoming to women and some minorities.
The report suggested making sure the physical appearance of campus, down to objects on classroom walls, reflect the diverse student body.
“We cannot have a healthy, diverse environment without coordination across all departments, schools, administrative offices, and allies,” Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of Christian morals who led the committee, told the Harvard Gazette.
Also Thursday, about 100 graduate students at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health demonstrated on their campus in the Longwood medical area. Dressed in black, students walked out of class to a “Blackout” rally in support of students at the University of Missouri and the Law School.
Images of the marred portraits of the professors were shared on Twitter by Jonathan Wall, a third-year law student at the school. Wall said the pictures were sent to him from a classmate earlier that morning.
“I was shocked. . . . Especially because it seems to be in response to yesterday’s day of activism,” Wall said.
On Wednesday, Harvard students rallied at the school’s Science Center Plaza before marching to Porter Square, where they joined with Tufts students. The protest was in solidarity with students of color across the country who say they are fighting racial injustices.
Minow sent an e-mail to the law school community hours after the vandalism came to her attention, saying “I am saddened and angered by this act.”
She convened a Town Hall-style meeting with students and staff for over an hour.
Leland Shelton, president of the Black Law Student Association at Harvard, said the vandalization was upsetting. “This is some coward or somebody who thought this was an appropriate reaction [to recent protests]. And it hurts,” he said.