Harvard Faces Its Legacy Of Slavery | Crooked Media
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April 26, 2022
What A Day
Harvard Faces Its Legacy Of Slavery

In This Episode

  • Harvard University pledged $100 million to redress its ties to slavery. In an email on Tuesday, the school’s president said that the university bore “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.”
  • According to multiple reports, President Biden said that he may be prepared to not only extend a pause on federal student loan debts that is set to end August 31, but to cancel some entirely.
  • In headlines: Russia accused the West of sabotaging peace talks with Ukraine, the CDC said that a majority of Americans have been infected with COVID at least once, and Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn was caught with a loaded gun at an airport.
  • And we chat with Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, about the overturned federal mask mandate for mass transit. We also talked about Delta’s announcement that it will begin paying its flight attendants during boarding time, a move that comes amidst a union drive for the company.


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Gideon Resnick: Wednesday, April 27th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re sending our chicken noodle soup recipe to Doug Emhoff so he can be a good partner to the COVID-positive Vice President, Kamala Harris.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Get some celery, Doug, and start chopping.


Priyanka Aribindi: Those carrots better be bright orange. Nothing but the best.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the head of the Flight Attendants Union rails against how the federal mask mandate for mass transit ended. Plus, the CDC says that if you have had COVID, then at this point you are mainstream.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, Harvard University has pledged $100 million to redress its ties to slavery. In an email to students, faculty, and staff, the school’s president said, quote, “Harvard benefited from and in some ways perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral. 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.”


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so tell us a little bit more about what actually led up to this moment?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So this announcement was made after a report by the university itself called “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” was made public yesterday. As you can imagine, the report chronicled how a lot of the university’s founding wealth came from patrons whose fortunes came directly from slave labor. Many of those patrons gave their names to halls and dorms that students and staff on campus are still using today. The report also revealed that multiple Harvard presidents, faculty and staff enslaved more than 70 individuals when slavery was legal in Massachusetts. The records in the report include the names of the prominent figures who did this, alongside the ways that they’re memorialized on campus, you know, with buildings, paintings, professorships, streets—you know, all of those kinds of things. And those all accompany a list of the people who they enslaved, almost all of whom are only identified by their first names.


Gideon Resnick: Wow. Yeah. Any of these long-standing American institutions, you look into them a little bit and you don’t like what you find.


Priyanka Aribindi: Find, really don’t like what you’re going to see.


Gideon Resnick: So what is that $100 million going towards?


Priyanka Aribindi: So Harvard is creating an endowed “Legacy of Slavery Fund.” It’s designed to research and memorialize the university’s history of slavery and work with the descendants of Black and native people who were enslaved there, as well as their broader communities.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and this isn’t Harvard alone. Other schools have also been acknowledging their history with slavery, like this. So where else has this actually happened so far?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, honestly, Harvard’s a little bit late to the game on this. A bunch of universities have started acknowledging their roles in slavery, and tried to put their money where their mouth is. They aren’t proud of these histories. At Georgetown University, Jesuit leaders pledged $100 million as well. This was last year to benefit the descendants of 272 enslaved people who were sold to cover the school’s debts. That follows a few years of discussing things like this. Brown University started examining their ties to slavery back in 2003, so decades ago. Last year, undergrads there overwhelmingly voted for the school to give reparations as well, though Brown has not yet followed through on that. According to Brown’s website, though, over 80 schools in the U.S., Canada and England are doing the same thing, examining their own histories. But Harvard, notably has the largest endowment of any university in the world. It is the richest school. It reached $53 billion in 2021. That is up, I think, 23% over the last year of the pandemic. And of course, since it’s Harvard, people pay attention when they do something.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. And other universities have also recently tried to address different elements of, shall we say, our country’s deeply-flawed past. So tell us a little bit more about some news that happened on that this week.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I think it’s very fair to call it deeply-flawed. On Friday, the University of California system announced that it will cover in-state tuition for undergrads and graduate students who are members of federally-recognized Native American, American-Indian, and Alaska Native Tribes starting this fall. UC’s president said that they were doing this to expand student diversity and make education more affordable. He also said that the school is, quote, “committed to recognizing and acknowledging the historical wrongs endured by Native Americans.” According to 2019 estimates, this group of people represents 1.6% of California’s population—that is more than in any other state—but they only make up half a percent of the U.S. student body. That is, you know, the latest on some schools that are trying to make amends for their pasts, our collective pasts, but meanwhile, Gideon, there was some news about President Biden and student loans. What’s going on over there?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is really interesting for a number of reasons. So there were multiple reports out of this meeting that Biden had with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday, saying that he may be prepared to not only extend a pause on federal student loan debts that is set to end August 31st, but to perhaps cancel some entirely. We should say that was according to reports in CBS News and Washington Post, among others, and it was coming from House members who were in the meeting and some aides that were briefed on it.


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, when I see that, my wheels kind of turn a little bit, I’m like, are they just saying that he said this? Kind of feels like a good way to kind of catch him in a corner there?


Gideon Resnick: Yep.


Priyanka Aribindi: I can think of some of the reasons this would be interesting. Tell us a little more.


Gideon Resnick: I think it’s fair to say, for one, that the administration has come under really intense pressure to fully-cancel student loan debt. That was even before Biden was elected president. The reporting around this doesn’t really indicate that Biden would necessarily go that far. But the idea of the conversation happening at all, if it did happen in this way, is certainly interesting.


Priyanka Aribindi: Plant that seed!


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Yeah. I’m conspiracy-minded. Then whatever these kinds of stories do get reported at once, like you said, by a bunch of different outlets, it does always feel like there is some intentionality there, Right? Whether it’s these members making sure that this part of the conversation gets out into the reporting. A cancelation of student loan debts would be a very good political message to get out before the midterms, even as Biden reportedly has said that he wants to be careful on the timing due to inflation. We’ll keep you updated on what else we find out in our grand conspiracy there, but that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talked about how to get Ukrainian civilians to safety with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to a UN statement, Putin, quote, “agreed in principle” end quote to letting the U.N. and the Red Cross help hundreds of civilians who have taken shelter at a steel plant in the city of Mariupol. But unfortunately, that is as far as the talks really went. Guterres also urged Russia to call a cease fire in Ukraine, which backfired. After the meeting, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine had no interest in negotiations. He then accused the West of pushing the Ukrainian government to effectively sabotage peace talks, which the West denies. This all came a day after Lavrov warned the West that this war could turn nuclear—wow. Meanwhile, in the country of Moldova, there were a series of explosions in the Russian-backed region of Transnistria on Monday and Tuesday. This area borders Ukraine, ramping up fear that this war could spill over into neighboring countries. It does remain unclear who is behind the attacks, but local authorities blamed Ukraine, while Ukraine accused Russia, and said that the Kremlin orchestrated this as a pretext for future aggression.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m still stuck on, you know, the U.N. Secretary General having a conversation with Putin. I just don’t know at this point, like, how one sits across from him! That’s just wild to me. The Centers for Disease Control said that coronavirus is officially mainstream yesterday, in the sense that the majority of Americans have been infected with it at least once. 60% of the country’s population—including 75% of children!—have had infections, based on the prevalence of COVID antibodies in a broad survey of blood samples. In January, the CDC said that just 43% of the population had gotten COVID based on the same kind of analysis, the huge jump speaks to the impact of the more contagious Omicron variant. The good news is that there is a greater degree of immunity in the population which could guard against future surges and severe cases of COVID. In other COVID news, the virus is officially not a member of the resistance, as it has sidelined three Democrats whose votes are needed in the Senate. Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Chris Murphy and Vice President Kamala Harris are all isolating after positive tests, and as a result, Democrats have had to delay their plans to advance nominations to the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission this week.


Gideon Resnick: To all my rebels out there who have managed to avoid the virus after all of these years, stay rebellious, my friends. I unfortunately count myself in that mainstream. As do you.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. We’re lame-stream as hell.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. The radical left is trying to cancel Thomas Edison, with President Biden’s Department of Energy announcing new rules yesterday restricting the sale of some light bulbs. Specifically, Biden’s administration is banning companies from manufacturing or importing incandescent bulbs, which are the old fashioned kind that create light with a glowing wire filament. These bulbs use far more energy than compact fluorescent and LED bulbs, and they also have a lifespan that is 25 to 50 times shorter. According to the Energy Department, ending their use will save consumers $3 billion annually on bills and cut carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons over the next 30 years. Considering these numbers, this move seems like a no-brainer, which explains why our last no-brainer president opposed it. Donald Trump’s Energy Department rolled back regulations on incandescent bulbs in 2019, noting at the time that the energy efficient LED lights in the White House made him, quote, “look orange”—sir, unfortunately, you’re describing all light bulbs. Biden’s new rule will be phased in gradually and enforced in full by July 2023, at which point retailers will no longer be allowed to sell incandescent bulbs.


Priyanka Aribindi: Really? He was just like, No, sorry, I look orange. Like, scrap this whole plan.


Gideon Resnick: I love that that’s also the motivating factor: I looked rough in a pic and therefore setting policy.


Priyanka Aribindi: Could also ease up on the self-tanner. That is a solid alternative. Republican Congressman and prominent member of the orgy-hating community, Madison Cawthorne, did the advanced version of taking a full water bottle through TSA by accident: he took a full gun through TSA by accident! Or, so he says. He was cited yesterday for bringing a loaded 9-millimeter pistol through a security checkpoint at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, an offense that is punishable with up to a $13,000 fine—please fine this man. Cawthorn stored the gun in his carry on, as one does I guess. And he’s bad enough at packing/good enough at packing heat that this is the second time in just over a year that he has been cited for the same very niche, very hard to make offense. This wasn’t the only Cawthorn news that broke yesterday. The conservative newspaper, The Washington Examiner also reported that Cawthorn may have violated insider trading laws for making social media posts promoting a cryptocurrency called Let’s Go Brandon or LGBCoin. In hindsight, that coin looks like it might have been part of a pump-and-dump scheme. One day after Cawthorn posted on Instagram last year that the coin would go to the moon, LGBCoin announced a prominent new sponsor. The coin’s value surged and its market cap hit $570 million. Since then, its market cap has dropped to—get this—$0.


Gideon Resnick: Oh, that is a lot less.


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s a pretty big drop. Multiple federal watchdog groups think Cawthorn had access to nonpublic information about the pending LGBCoin endorsement warranting an investigation by the Department of Justice—and also everybody who is like, Why does it sound like LGBT? Don’t you hate gay people? I’m a little confused.


Gideon Resnick: I’m confused as well. I’m stuck on the amount of times it appears that he has brought a gun in a carry-on, is the amount of times where I’ve been like, Oh man, I still have water in my Nalgene, that’s going to have to go into the trash or into my mouth. Those are my choices.


Priyanka Aribindi: I usually pack a carry-on. Like, that is something that I have put effort into organizing, so that doesn’t feel like a mistake. But . . .


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: Who knows?


Gideon Resnick: Who knows, indeed. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads. Stick around for our conversation with Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: All righty, WAD squad. We’re going to wrap up by going a little deeper on a story we mentioned last week.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So we talked about on the show how a federal judge overturned the CDCs mask mandate for public transit. The Biden administration has since appealed that ruling and hopes to get it reinstated, but in the meantime, many airlines have gotten rid of their mask mandates. And those decisions have had major implications for flight attendants who were once tasked with enforcing them.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, in addition to that, there has been even more airline news recently. So just this week, Delta announced that starting June 2nd, it will begin paying their flight attendants during boarding time, making it the first major U.S. airline to do so. So usually flight attendants are only paid once the plane door is closed and all passengers are seated. So this might sound like a minor change, but the move is expected to increase wages by several thousand dollars a year for these flight attendants, AND is very notably coming amidst a union drive for the company. So to get some perspective on all of this, we have with us Sara Nelson. She is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants and has been on the show before to talk about the movement to unionize flight attendants and all workers. Sara, welcome back to What a Day.


Sara Nelson: Thanks, Gideon. I always love talking with you.


Gideon Resnick: Let’s just kick it off with this. A ruling last week, of course, struck down a transportation mask mandate. The Biden administration is now appealing that decision. So, Sara, what have been all of your reactions to all of this in the past few days here?


Sara Nelson: I mean, it felt like insult to injury. After two years of having to enforce the mask mandate and people giving them a hard time—these grown people who had checked a box when they bought the ticket, acknowledging they would follow the rules and wear the mask and then, you know, getting on the plane and giving people a hard time. And so there was sort of this collective sigh of relief, but at the same time, the way that this was communicated out, this was announced in the middle of flights! And so there were people who got on the flights with a certain set of rules, and this set up a whole other set of conflicts because all of a sudden, flight attendants and pilots are stuck with dealing with this on the front lines, and people were upset. So, I was really unhappy with the way that this went down. There is no reason that the airlines needed to communicate that it was changing right away. They had mask policies in place before the federal mask mandate was in place. I told them, give it 24 or 48 hours. At least let people know what is going to happen when they get to the airport. Like I said, add insult to injury, like a really sour cherry on top of the worst Sunday ever—that’s what it felt like.


Gideon Resnick: That’s a great analogy that I’m going to stick with for a while now. So I want to ask, are we at a point now where people would even comply if the decision does end up getting reversed?


Sara Nelson: I think it would be really hard. I think if we went out next week and we said, Okay, the mask mandate is back in place, I think it’s really hard at this point to put the genie back in the bottle, even though we should be able to. But we’ve got to get back to a place where we can actually have conversations with each other in order to do that safely.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So on top of all of this and speaking of enforcement, you know, there are certain airlines that have talked about allowing people back who have been banned over the course of this mask mandate. What are your thoughts on something like that happening?


Sara Nelson: You know, no matter where flight attendant stood on the policy itself, none of them like to see the airlines announcing immediately we’re going to let people back who broke the rules, because it’s not about the mask. It’s about people who were willfully saying, I’m not willing to follow these set of rules. And those rules are in place to keep everyone safe, and we are charged with enforcing those rules. The airlines immediately announcing that people could come back just undermines all of that. And we have expressed our concern with them. There have been some airlines that have said, Okay, they’re going to take a beat, but it sent a terrible message. Why they needed to rush to say that is beyond me.


Gideon Resnick: I want to talk also about a backdrop that’s happening here as well. Last time we spoke, we were talking about the Delta unionization push. So how is that progressing at the moment, and how, if at all, are these changes starting to impact it? There was, of course, that announcement about pay during boarding, for example. What else is going on there?


Sara Nelson: Well, look, Delta is the only major carrier that remains nonunion for the flight attendant workforce. The momentum on the campaign is amazing. The flight attendants are relating to the Amazon workers and the Starbucks workers. And since the last time we had an election in 2010, half of the workforce has been hired, so it’s the next generation that’s really leading this campaign. And you can see very quickly, we’re going to win! The union’s going to win. And Delta could see that, too. So what they did this week, they made an announcement that they know is industry-leading to pay flight attendants during boarding. And some people listening to the program right now will be like, what?! Flight attendants aren’t pay during that time!? That’s right. We were left out of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Delta knows that this is something that flight attendants around the industry will key to. They know it’s helpful when other flights at other airlines are saying, Delta got that without a union. But, you know, it’s backfiring on them because of all the discussion about union-busting tactics, people are wiser to this. They’re seeing through it right away. They’re saying, instead of saying, Oh, you don’t need the union, people are saying, Oh, that union campaign must be hot.


Priyanka Aribindi: Speaking of Amazon, earlier, you were in Staten Island over the weekend, you know, with their labor union. What have their efforts kind of taught you or how have they affected the way that you think about organizing?


Sara Nelson: I mean, I’m going to get a little choked up right now. There’s two things: workers are waking up to their powers. They’re waking up to this idea that when they come together, they can even take on a billionaire, they can take on people that don’t have to answer to anyone else. And then they talk about solidarity, and practice it, and experience joyfully in a way that is so infectious and real and lasting, that there is no way that any union buster is going to be able to break through that. And I’m, just I’m grateful. I’m so grateful. I’m grateful to Chris Smalls for his leadership. I’m grateful that he reached out. And we have been able to talk from time to time over the last two years, and that he understands solidarity and talks about it in a way that can be lasting and can really build a new labor movement.


Gideon Resnick: Well, Sara, we always greatly appreciate your time. Thank you so much.


Sara Nelson: All right. Thank you. Take care.


Priyanka Aribindi: That was Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants. We will keep following this story in our coverage of labor unions nationwide.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, change a light bulb, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just the TSA’s list of banned items like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Gideon Resnick: I am Gideon Resnick.


[together] And stir that soup, Doug!


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t have a good soup recipe. I will own up to that. But I think that Doug, whatever he has in his back pocket is probably pretty solid. I would trust him.


Gideon Resnick: And if not, there’s probably a Panera. You know, you’re probably relatively close. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzy Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.