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Harvard police calling marred portraits a ‘hate crime’

Harvard police are investigating after students at the law school discovered someone put strips of black tape over images of black professors.Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Tuttle

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.

“The Harvard University Police Department is 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.”

A spokesman for the Harvard University Police Department said the incident remains an “open and active investigation.”


Images of the marred portraits 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. I was shocked, and I was obviously disgusted. Especially because it seems to be in response to yesterday’s day of activism,” said Wall.

Harvard students rallied Wednesday at the school’s Science Center Plaza before marching to Porter Square, where they joined with Tufts University students. The protest was in solidarity with students of color across the country who say they are fighting racial injustices at their campuses.

Minow sent an e-mail to the law school community hours after the vandalism was brought to her attention.

“I am saddened and angered by this act,” Minow wrote.

The dean later convened a Town Hall-style meeting with law school students and staff for over an hour Thursday to discuss the discovery of the tape.

“Here at HLS, we are focused on efforts to improve our community, examining structures that may contribute to negative experiences of any members of our community, and pursuing opportunities where the School can both change and support change,” she said in a statement.


Leland Shelton, president of the Black Law Student Association at Harvard, said he was at first angry about the vandalized portraits, but later upset.

“You see things like that and it hurts you,” he said. “This is some coward or somebody who thought this was an appropriate reaction [to recent protests]. And it hurts.”

Michele Hall, a second-year student at the law school, spoke out against the act of vandalism, and condemned the person responsible.

“I’m disgusted and outraged that it happened, but I’m also not surprised,” said Hall. “Microaggressions and macroagressions happen every day, and that’s the reality of being a student of color at Harvard and any other institution.”

The black tape on the portraits at Harvard Law was eventually removed and replaced by notes of encouragement, with students writing positive statements about each of the professors on small pieces of paper.

One note, laid out in multiple Post-its, read, “We Love Our Black Faculty.”

Scores of students from area colleges and universities have held protests this week in support of a national movement that began with unrest at the University of Missouri.

In a separate incident Tuesday, Simmons College officials became aware of “upsetting images” on social media that were related to a student demonstration.

Two hundred members of the Simmons community had held a sit-in that day following a meeting with officials about race and inclusion. The images prompted the school to close campus and residential doors early.


“There was no threat to anyone on our campus. The message itself was not directed at anyone in the Simmons community,” said Jeremy Solomon, a spokesman for the college. He said he could not say what the images showed because police were still investigating.

Globe correspondent Sarah Roberts contributed to this report. Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.