Harvard Law School is retiring its internationally recognized shield.
The University’s governing body agreed Monday with a committee’s recommendation to replace the controversial symbol, which incorporates the crest of the slave-owning family that helped to finance the law school, the Washington Post reports.
Harvard President Drew Faust announced the decision in a letter to the law school’s dean, Martha Minow. The president suggested this is a good time to design a new shield—one that unites the school—for its bicentennial in 2017.
According to the Post, Minow sent a statement to Harvard’s community, stating:
“We cannot choose our history, but we can choose that for which we stand. Above all, we rededicate ourselves to the hard work of eradicating not just symbols of injustice but injustice itself.”
The controversy centers on the inclusion to the shield, in 1936, of three sheaves of wheat, a symbol from the Royall family’s crest. Isaac Royall Jr. was a wealthy slave owner who established an endowment to the school that was used for Harvard’s first law professorship. He inherited scores of slaves from his father, who was known as a cruel master.
A student protest movement named Royall Must Fall emerged after the Royall’s family history surfaced. It gained momentum in November, when vandals placed strips of black tape across the photograph portraits of African-American law professors lining the hallway of the law school.
The group posted this tweet following news of the decision:
Minow supported the call to replace the shield. Following the vandalism incident, she acknowledged what many others were saying about the law school.
“Racism exists in America and in the United States and in Harvard and in Harvard Law School,” she said according to the Harvard Crimson, adding, “It’s a serious problem.”
Minow organized a committee tasked with reviewing the shield’s history and weighing its current impact. All but two in the 12-member committee urged the University’s governing body to remove the controversial symbol.
That process has begun, according to the Washington Post, with the law school deleting the shield from its social media sites. But it will take about a month to remove it completely from everywhere it exists, including signs and doormats.