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Harvard Law School Reveals New Seal, Replacing Former Crest With Ties to Slavery

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Harvard Law School unveiled a new seal Monday, more than five years after the school retired its former one due to its ties to slavery.

The new seal consists of the University’s motto, “veritas,” and “lex et iustitia,” law and justice, inscripted above eight curved lines, which the school said in a press release is “inspired by architectural details found in Austin and Hauser halls.”

In an email to Law School affiliates Monday, Dean John F. Manning ’82 wrote that by including both Latin phrases, the seal’s designers “make explicit” that the institution “stands for truth, law, and justice.”

“I believe that the simple, elegant, and beautiful design of the new shield captures the complexity, the diversity, the limitlessness, the transformative power, the strength, and the energy that the HLS community, in Cambridge and throughout the world, sees in Harvard Law School,” Manning wrote.

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Calls for the Law School to alter its seal began in 2015, when students argued that the seal at the time — which contained the crest of the family of Isaac Royall Jr., a slaveholder who endowed the first law professorship at Harvard — upheld the legacy of slavery.

In March 2016, a Law School committee officially recommended to the Harvard Corporation that it remove and replace the seal. The Corporation accepted that recommendation later that month, and the school said it would select a new seal by 2017; it quickly stripped most physical versions of the seal from campus.

It took until 2020, however, for HLS to form a working group to create its new seal. Law School affiliates were invited to share their suggestions with the working group through focus groups, alumni associations, discussions with student government representatives, and an email address for submission ideas.

Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed — who chaired the working group — said in an interview with Harvard Law Today that the new seal “represents the far-reaching nature” of the institution.

“I very much enjoyed hearing other perspectives,” Gordon-Reed said. “There were some things that kept showing up in all the groups — the focus and the size and breadth of the school, the diversity of the classes offered.”

Manning wrote in his email that the working group “widely solicited the views of our large and diverse community.”

“Over the span of well over a year, it conducted more than a dozen focus groups with faculty, students, staff, and alumni,” Manning wrote.

The working group wrote in its final report that while there was no singular agreement on how the new seal should be designed, three “common conceptual threads” stood out: a “diverse and pluralistic community,” “leadership that changes the world for the better,” and the “fundamental pursuit of law and justice.”

“I am grateful to our community for taking part in this important process and for the values and aspirations they ascribe to HLS — excellence, diversity, pluralism, transformation, leadership, contribution, impact, and the ideals of law and justice,” Manning wrote.

—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at emmy.cho@thecrimson.com.

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