How And Why Harvard Promoted Elizabeth Warren As A "Woman Of Color"

I am posting this in response to Elizabeth Warren's address today at the National Congress of American Indians.

The story below was originally published on by me in 2012. It was the first article that I know of that explained Warren's professional campaign to falsely promote herself and to allow Harvard to promote her as a "woman of color"—i.e. as a Cherokee. In Warren's address today she once again said nothing about this.

Woman while white: why Elizabeth Warren became 'Princess Cheekbones'
by Glenn F. Wright
June 14, 2012

In a photo from 2011 at the White House, two Harvard Law School "minorities", President Obama and Elizabeth Warren, stand side by side. Which one has the higher cheekbones?

Elizabeth Warren has yet to really explain it, i.e., why it is she decided to become a Cherokee, by allowing Harvard to consider her, and promote her, as a "woman of color", a Native American professor of law.

In fact, not a shred of evidence has surfaced since the story of Warren's minority status claim hit in late April to support the idea that the newly anointed Democratic candidate for the US Senate from Massachusetts has one drop of Cherokee blood in her veins.

And that's just the blood. Warren's association with recognized Cherokee tribes is non-existent. None of them claim her. None of them have been approached by Warren to claim her. Ever.

So, how is it that Elizabeth Warren, white woman, became a woman of color at Harvard in 1993?

To understand that, you have to understand the context of the diversity debates that were roiling US campuses in the late 1980s to early 1990s. For example, at Harvard Law School (HLS), for a number of years prior to the school offering Warren a tenured teaching position in February, 1993, the Dean of the HLS, Robert C. Clark, had been fighting a pitched battle against his own student body over the question of whether HLS should make increasing diversity a key consideration in faculty hiring.

Ironically, in the very month Warren would decide what she should do about the tenure offer from Harvard, a peculiar incident took place, which helps to illustrate the divisive role diversity was playing in hiring considerations at HLS. As reported by The Harvard Crimson at the time, on the morning of April 14, 1993, students at HLS found copies of a letter, apparently signed by Dean Clark, in their mailboxes. The letter announced that "Harvard would offer tenure to four prominent minority legal scholars [all women], including University of Oklahoma professor Anita Hill."

Joyful, but skeptical, students then asked Dean Clark about the appointments, and when they showed him a copy of "his" announcement, it quickly became clear that the letter was a hoax.

It turned out that what The Harvard Crimson in March of 1993 had described as a "mysterious group of vandals" known as the Sojourner Truth Squad had penned the letter, with the very purpose of creating a controversy and more pressure on Dean Clark to make a minority hire. And not just any hire. The reason the fake letter had mentioned the hiring of four minority women is that the focus of Harvard's 1993 student push for diversity was on hiring "women of color".

Andy Levin, who recently described himself in an email exchange with me as "founder and leader of the Sojourner Truth Squad", described the intent of the fake letter this way:
"We were advocating for Dean Clark (a stick in the mud) to hire more women and people of color (not just women of color). Professor Warren was there teaching and none of [us] knew anything at all about her status being in doubt. She was a highly respected and beloved teacher."
Despite being "highly respected and beloved", the name of Elizabeth Warren had actually come up at the time her real tenure offer had been announced (in February, 1993), in an argument amongst HLS students over whether hiring her was a real or sufficient move towards increasing diversity. Some students pointed to Warren as an example of the sort of "safe" hire Harvard had been occasionally making to give what the students said was a false appearance that HLS was taking diversity seriously.

One student, Julie A. Su (currently Labor Commissioner for the State of California), described the Elizabeth Warren job offer by HLS this way (reported by The Harvard Crimson February 6, 1993):
"The fact that the tenure offers tend to be right of center, and only white women is disturbing. [Harvard's] definition of diversity tends to be very limited. In order to show a real commitment to diversity they need to do more than pass a resolution and bring in white women. They need women of color and ideological diversity."
The Harvard Crimson first reported the Clark hoax letter on April 15, 1993. The very next day, on April 16, 1993, Warren was reported by The Harvard Crimson to have decided to reject Harvard's tenure offer.

Warren's reason for rejecting the offer was explained as "personal reasons", apparently a desire not to take a job that would keep her away from her husband and family in Philadelphia.

But the timing of her decision is interesting, since it occurred on the same day (i.e., April 15, 1993) the "women of color" hoax letter was reported in The Harvard Crimson.

HLS allowed Warren two years to reconsider, and as it turned out to give Harvard some time to make her appointment seem more credible as a pro-diversity hiring decision.

Elizabeth Warren, criticized by HLS students in February, 1993 as a "right of center" white woman, somehow became featured in the Spring 1993 Harvard Women's Law Journal (HWLJ), as one of over 200 "women of color" in "legal academia". Clearly, the message had gotten communicated to Warren and to Harvard that being "a woman while white" was insufficiently politically correct.

While Warren had for a number of years been listing herself as a Native American at UPenn, suddenly, in early 1993, the need to validate her minority status at Harvard as Native American gained more urgency. Warren had to be aware that the critique of herself as only a white woman—in other words a less prestigious and useful diversity hire—could be damaging to her career.

It is at this point, if not much earlier, that one might have expected a person seeking a true validation of her minority status to contact recognized Cherokee tribes. But Warren did not do this. In fact, she did not need to do this, since the validation offered by academic institutions such as Harvard and their publications was all Warren needed to be a professionally established minority.

It is difficult to view Warren's listing as a "woman of color" in the 1993 HWLJ as just a coincidence. In any case, in early 1995, newly affirmed Cherokee Elizabeth Warren decided she would take the tenure offer from HLS after all. Having arrived at the place she wished to be, and where she has been for seventeen years, shortly after accepting her appointment at Harvard, Warren ceased listing herself in professional journals as a Native American. However, her alleged status as a Cherokee was still apparently used for years by Harvard in diversity reports supplied to the federal government.

When asked about why she was convinced that her family lore was credible evidence concerning her heritage, Elizabeth Warren has said many, often embarrassingly tone-deaf or goofily racist, things.
For example: "My Aunt Bee has walked by that picture [of Warren's grandfather] at least 1000 times, remarked that he—her father, my papaw, has high cheekbones, like all of the indians do, because that's how she saw it, and she said 'And your mother got those same great cheekbones, and I [Aunt Bee] didn't. She thought this was the bad deal she had gotten in life."
Clearly, Elizabeth Warren figured she would make as much of a good deal out of high cheekbones as she could. Whether or not this decision, and her calculation to "be Cherokee" at Harvard almost twenty years ago, will impact voters' perception of her integrity (or lack of it) remains to be seen.

A group of Cherokees is committed to forcing Warren to acknowledge she falsely claimed to be one of them. But it is difficult to see what precisely would move Warren to do that at this point. To admit she lied, and has been lying for decades, apparently to enhance herself professionally, would certainly suggest that she should pull out of the US Senate race against Scott Brown.

Elizabeth Warren has decided instead to keep pointing to her allegedly high cheekbones, and what she continues to claim they suggest about her heritage, and to ignore the complaints of the real Cherokees.

The latter have vowed to continue their protests.