Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust says the Ivy League school must recognize its ties to the slave trade.

In an essay published in the student newspaper The Crimson, Faust, a Civil War historian, writes that “the presence and contributions of people of African descent at Harvard is still an untold story.”

Faust says the university will recognize four slaves who lived and worked in Wadsworth Hall, the second oldest building at Harvard, with a plaque. Next March, the university will host a conference on higher education and slavery.

MIT historian Craig Steven Wilder, the author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities," thinks it's an important first step, and says colleges in the Colonial period were partly built on American slavery.

"You’re talking about every school from Dartmouth through Harvard," he said.

Wilder says more needs to be done to recognize that history.

"I think it's important to open up that conversation because when we change the way we think about their history we also change the way we think about their possibilities today," he said.

Faust’s acknowledgment follows the recent announcement that Harvard Law School will change its shield, which resembles the family crest of a slaveholder who was an early donor to the school. But law students who have been occupying Wasserstein Hall for the past 50 days say symbolic gestures are nice, but are demanding more substantial changes, such as hiring more diverse faculty.

"This institution has a long history of ignoring these sorts of things and it’s nice to see some recognition from the president of the university and now that we have it I think it’s time to start moving the conversation forward with how to correct the legacies that President Faust brings to light," said A.J. Clayborn, one of those protestors.

Another protestor, Bianca Tylek, says that, for now, she’s withholding judgment on Faust’s announcement.

"I would also like to see something I think that’s certainly larger than a plaque," she said. "I guess I’d be interested in seeing what this exact plaque would look like, but we have a lot of plaques around the law school. Some are about as big as my thumb.”

Whatever the size of the plaque, student activists are encouraged that Faust—and other administrators—have at least agreed with them that racism and discrimination is still a problem on campus.