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Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice

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This article reconstructs a mostly forgotten moment in Harvard Law School history when the students organized in the early 1990s across race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability and disability lines to push for faculty diversity. The new student coalition, called the Coalition for Civil Rights, gave the students’ activism unusual momentum. This initiative included the first time that law students, acting pro se, sued their law school for discrimination in faculty hiring and the first time Harvard Law School students were publically tried by their school’s Administrative Board for conducting an overnight sit-in at the Dean’s office (i.e., the Griswold 9 incident). Drawing upon social movement theory, the author analyzes why the activism was so robust during this time period by applying the concepts of signaling, framing, and resource mobilization to the actions of the students. The author argues that the unprecedented diversity of the coalition contributed to the activism’s intensity in key ways. First, the protests by this diverse group signaled to the entire student body that the faculty diversity movement was gaining momentum. Second, the ways in which the coalition members framed an inclusive conception of diversity created a sense of strong group cohesion among students. Third, the diversity of the group served as a resource that enhanced the coalition’s problem solving abilities. The author concludes that although the most vigorous activism was relatively short-lived, the students that were involved in this coalition were nonetheless successful in making their voices heard by Harvard University and the general public.

At some point, demands for change have an unacknowledged effect. Those in authority eventually come to see the value of diversity and even take credit for doing what they should have done much earlier. But it is the Harvard Law School students who deserve credit for [a tenured faculty appointment for a woman of color], and they can now celebrate this positive step.



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