Harvard has acknowledged disturbing eugenics experiments in the past

  • A report finds that Harvard University pushed “racial science” and eugenics.
  • The university will come forward with recommendations to compensate for its history with slavery.
  • “Many of you will find it disturbing and even shocking,” said the university’s dean.

Harvard University leaders advanced “racial theory” and eugenics during the 19th and 20th centuries, according to a report released by the university detailing the institution’s involvement with slavery.

The 134-page report, published Tuesday, was led in 2019 by the faculty Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery, chaired by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and Daniel PS Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor Of history.

The report focused on Harvard University’s involvement in slavery and, following the abolition of slavery, the university’s “abusive” research and experiments in eugenics and “racial science”.

The report, titled “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery,” found that by 1850, “Harvard Medical School had become a focal point for scientific theories and practices rooted in racial hierarchy, racial exclusion, and discrimination at the University.”

During the 19th and 20th centuries, several Ivy League university presidents and professors “promoted ‘racial science’ and eugenics and conducted abusive ‘research’, including the photography of enslaved and subjugated human beings,” the report states, adding that the documents and products of these discoveries remain on campus.

The university took an active role in promoting eugenics theories and research – including photographing people who were enslaved – that were used to support racial discrimination, segregation and white supremacy.

“Legacies of slavery persisted at Harvard, and throughout American society, after the Constitution and laws officially outlawed human slavery. Such legacies, including racial segregation, exclusion, and discrimination, were part of campus life well into the 20th century.” , the report adds.

In addition, the report details how the university profited from slavery – including owning slaves and receiving donations from people who made money from slave industries.

It lists the names of 79 people of Indian and African descent who were enslaved at the university—working and living on its campus—between its founding in 1636 and Massachusetts’ ban on slavery in 1783.

Remains of the bodies of thousands of indigenous people and at least 15 black people are still on campus in museum collections. The university president created a steering committee to respond to the finding.

He recommends that Harvard establish a memorial in honor of enslaved individuals and that the university engage “with these descendants through dialogue, programming, information sharing, relationship building and educational support.”

The University has established an implementation committee that will be chaired by Martha Minow, the 300th anniversary university professor and former dean of Harvard Law School, the school’s president said in a statement. A total of US$100 million will be allocated to address the report’s recommendations.

“Many of you will find this disturbing and even shocking,” Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a statement Tuesday. “Many of you may also be disappointed to learn painful truths about the history of an institution you know, respect and even love.”

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