Revealing Painful Pasts: More Than a Year Ago, Brown University Released Its Landmark Report on Its Connections to Slavery, but Few Universities Have Followed Its Lead in Examining Their Own Ties,

By Sidhu, Jonathan | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 29, 2007 | Go to article overview

Revealing Painful Pasts: More Than a Year Ago, Brown University Released Its Landmark Report on Its Connections to Slavery, but Few Universities Have Followed Its Lead in Examining Their Own Ties,


Sidhu, Jonathan, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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When Brown University released its landmark report on the institutions connections to slavery in the fall of 2006, academics and reparations advocates across the country praised the institution, but few universities have followed Brown's lead in examining their own history with slavery more than one year later.

The culmination of nearly three years of research by the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, a group appointed by President Ruth Simmons, the report outlines Brown's ties to slavery and the history of the reparations movement in America and examines models for restorative justice.

"With the report, Brown has really gotten this debate going and it's spilling out, splattering on the canvas and all;' Alfred Brophy, a professor of law at the University of Alabama and a reparations scholar, told Diverse. "But this will not be a one-year process. This sort of discussion moves at an academic pace. People chew on the ideas. They debate them.

"I really think we're at the tipping point, where you're going to see other institutions engage in this" says Brophy, who, along with other Alabama faculty, successfully advocated for an institutional apology to slavery in 2004. "It's reasonable to think that next year will bring some more serious investigations"

Indeed, several universities are in the beginning stages of exploring their histories with slavery, but it remains to be seen how administrators will back such responses.

Dr. Terry Meyers, a professor of English at the College of William and Mary is examining the college's connection to slavery in an effort he hopes will encourage the school to of reckon with its complicated past.

"In the three major histories of William and Mary, the slave trade is simply erased--and not mentioned" Meyers says. "It's a sad and inhuman part of our past. Right from the beginning William and Mary was funded from the tax from tobacco, being a Virginia institution ... And the college and president obviously owned slaves right from the get go."

Meyers intends to present to the college's faculty assembly a proposal to explore its history with slavery by the semester's end, and he says such an official examination could conceivably begin next spring. Meyers adds that such a project could be meaningful only if it is truly exhaustive. And, indeed, when some institutions issue less in-depth apologies for their histories with slavery, scholars often question their sincerity.

"UVa. [University of Virginia] issued a quick apology and, unlike Brown, they didn't do it right," Brophy says. He adds that because UVa.'s apology wasn't backed up by significant scholarship, it came across as disingenuous.

"It certainly sounds like William and Mary is getting some stuff going," Brophy says. …

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Revealing Painful Pasts: More Than a Year Ago, Brown University Released Its Landmark Report on Its Connections to Slavery, but Few Universities Have Followed Its Lead in Examining Their Own Ties,
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