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Harvard Is Establishing a $100 Million Fund to Reckon With Its Own Historical Ties to Slavery

A damning new report found that a collection of Harvard University leaders, donors and staff members owned at least 70 people as slaves before slavery was outlawed in Massachusetts. University President Lawrence Bacow authorized a committee to investigate the school’s ugly ties to slavery, and they put together a 137-page report with a series of steps “to remedy the persistent educational and social harms that human bondage caused to descendants, to the campus community, and to surrounding cities, the Commonwealth and the nation.”

Among those steps is partnering with historically Black colleges and universities and investing in Black families in the U.S. To that end, Harvard has committed $100 million towards funding such initiatives as part of its Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery.

“The legacy of slavery, including the persistence of both overt and subtle discrimination against people of color, continues to influence the world in the form of disparities in education, health, wealth, income, social mobility and almost any other metric we might use to measure equality,” Bacow said in a statement. “Consequently, I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.”

It’s the latest in a series of reckonings that America’s institutions of higher learning have taken on in an attempt to honestly evaluate the legacy of slaveowners — many of whom these schools can count among their founders, faculty and even presidents. Bacow encouraged students to read the full report, which he said spared no details.

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“Many of you will find it disturbing and even shocking,” Bacow said. “Many of you may also be disappointed in learning painful truths about the history of an institution that you have come to know, respect, and even love. But the Harvard that I have known, while far from perfect, has always tried to be better—to bring our lived experience ever closer to our high ideals. In releasing this report and committing ourselves to following through on its recommendations, we continue a long tradition of embracing the challenges before us. That, too, is a vital part of our history.”

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