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Harvard University scraps controversial crest tied to slave owner

Harvard University has retired the shield emblem of its law school linked to an 18th century slave owner. The decision comes in the wake of other protests over emblems linked to slavery on campuses and public properties.

The Harvard Corporation, the US university's governing body in Boston, voted Monday to approve a recommendation by a Harvard Law School committee to retire the shield.

Designed in 1936, the law school's shield emblem displays three sheaves of wheat taken from the family coat of arms of colonial plantation owner Isaac Royall Jr. He had donated his estate in 1779 to create the first law professorship for the university.

Royall inherited his estate and many slaves from his father, a slaveholder who was known for his cruelty. That fact helped convince a group of Harvard students to petition for its replacement last fall.

The school empaneled a 12-member committee of staff, students and alumni to review the law school's emblem and recommended by a 10-2 vote that the crest be scrapped.

"We believe that if the law school is to have an official symbol, it must more closely represent the values of the law school, which the current shield does not," the committee said in its report.

Honoring the past

Cecil Rhodes Statur am Oriel College in Oxford University

Students at Oxford University launched a campaign last year for the removal of a statue of British imperialist and donor Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College.

Harvard President Drew Faust supported the change and said she hoped a replacement emblem would be chosen before the law school's bicentennial next year.

"While we accept the request to change the shield, we do so on the understanding that the school will actively explore other steps to recognize rather than to suppress the realities of its history, mindful of our shared obligation to honor the past not by seeking to erase it, but rather by bringing it to light and learning from it," Faust wrote.

End of house masters

Last week the prestigious university also decided to retire use of the title "house master" to denote staff who head up undergraduate residences, instead calling them "faculty deans" after students protested that the term harked to slavery.

The Harvard decisions follow a growing trend for emblems and monuments linked to slave holders be removed from university campuses.

In the United Kingdom,

Oxford University is resisting a student-led campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes,

one of the most notorious British imperialists of the 19th century.

jar/jm (AP, Reuters)

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