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What Can Be Done About Institutional Racism?

Coquillette book inspires a panel discussion about confronting harmful symbolism.

Photo/Reba Saldanha Rapport Center for Law and Public Policy panel on Institutional Racism at the Boston College Club, November 7, 2016. 

What’s in a symbol? Panelists at a Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy program, “Institutional Responses to Racism,” explored controversial symbols, titles, and named buildings at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. A shield lauding a slave owner, heads of colleges called “Masters,” and buildings named after Woodrow Wilson and John C. Calhoun triggered a discussion of how institutions are dealing with accusations of racist symbolism in the 21st century.

The event was inspired by Boston College Law School Professor Dan Coquillette’s recent book, On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century. The work laid bare Harvard’s historic connection to slavery and its law school’s use of a seal based on the seal of a slaveholding family. On the Battlefield provoked student protests and led to the seal’s removal.

In addition to Coquillette, the panelists were his co-author, Bruce Kimball, professor at Ohio State University; Brent Henry, general counsel of Partners HealthCare and Princeton University trustee; and Dr. William Sledge, psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine and former “Master” of Calhoun College. The program was moderated by Boston College Law School alumna Renee Landers ’85, professor at Suffolk University Law School.

The participants acknowledged the need for continuing conversations on this topic but also to address issues beyond academic institutions in areas such as the depiction of the Confederate flag and sports teams’ mascots.

The gathering was held at the Boston College Club on November 7.

Pictured, left to right, Renee Landers, Daniel Coquillette, Brent Henry, Bruce Kimball, William Sledge