Harvard Is Addressing Its Role in Slavery, Creating New Opportunities for HBCU Students

Through a $100 million endowment fund for reparations and possible partnerships with HBCUs, the university will attempt to make amends for the past.

A Black student walks through Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Harvard University, the oldest and most affluent educational institution in the United States, is taking new steps to address the way it benefited from enslavement. The plan includes setting aside $100 million for an endowment fund.

The announcement comes shortly after the release of Harvard and The Legacy Of Slavery,

a seven-chapter, 130-page report detailing how the university's history is intertwined with the enslavement of Black and Indigenous people in the United States and the Caribbean. The Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery wrote the report, noted donations came from enslavers, addressed the university's involvement in racist philosophies like the eugenics movement, and sought to humanize some of the enslaved people who lived and labored for students, faculty, and educators.

"During the 17th and 18th centuries, the sale and trafficking of human beings—in slavery—and the industries rooted in the labor of enslaved women, men, and children were pervasive around the world, comprised a vital part of the New England economy, and powerfully shaped Harvard University," the report says. "Harvard leaders, faculty, staff, and benefactors enslaved people, some of whom labored at the University accrued wealth through the slave trade and slave labor; and defended the institution of slavery."

Harvard joins Brown University, the University of Virginia, and Georgetown University in addressing the legacy of enslavement on campus and in its local community. Harvard hopes these efforts will model strategies for addressing the past for other historically white institutions. The report is clear that without the labors of enslaved people—70 of which are mentioned by name in the appendix—the institution wouldn't be what it is today.

The $100 million endowment fund is one effort among seven recommendations to address this. The recommendations of the report outline suggestions for addressing the legacy of enslavement. These include efforts to memorialize the enslaved's contributions, establishing an endowment legacy of slavery fund to support Harvard's reparative efforts, and more intentional partnerships with HBCUs to promote cross-pollination and student exchange.

The report notes that while HBCUs are "underfunded and excluded," Harvard and all major educational institutions "greatly benefit" from HBCU graduates. "Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have educated a significant share of African American professionals who have helped lead the country in creating a more equitable society, one that acknowledges that the intelligence, talents, and contributions of all groups must be recognized, nurtured, and drawn upon for the benefit of the nation," they wrote.

These partnerships look like funding "summer, semester, or yearlong visiting appointments to Harvard by interested faculty from HBCU partner institutions" and encouraging and subsidizing "summer, semester, or yearlong visits to Harvard by interested students who are juniors at HBCU partner institutions." One recommendation was for the "Du Bois Scholars Program," named after W. E. B. Du Bois, a graduate of Harvard College in 1890, who was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the school.

The committee says Du Bois scholars who visit Harvard as juniors and faculty of HBCU partner institutions would receive the same access to financial aid—both for college costs and faculty sabbatical funding—available to Harvard students and faculty. The process would create opportunities to exchange knowledge and collaborate on research—especially in STEM fields.

The impact just isn't at the university level. In addition to recommending that Harvard promote and fund fellowships with HBCUs and collaborate to "preserve African American history," the committee suggested that the institution use its resources and impact to "support historically marginalized children and youth from birth through high school and college." The committee also called on Harvard to leverage its impact to support children, educators, and parents in descendant communities locally, nationally, and internationally.

"Harvard's past entanglements with slavery and its legacies cannot be undone, but the present and future are ours—as a University community—to shape," the committee wrote in conclusion. "Through these endeavors we can advance both the University's commitment to the transformative power of education and our mission to develop ethical leaders who respect the "rights, diferences, and dignity" of all people."

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