CommunityPam's House Blend

Panel Suggests Brown U. Atone for Ties to Slavery

[Nancy in NYC here, late night blogger]

From the New York Times:

Extensively documenting Brown University’s 18th-century ties to slavery, a university committee called Wednesday for the institution to make amends by building a memorial, creating a center for the study of slavery and injustice and increasing efforts to recruit minority students, particularly from Africa and the West Indies.

The Committee on Slavery and Justice, appointed three years ago by Brown’s president, Ruth J. Simmons, a great-granddaughter of slaves who is the first black president of an Ivy League institution, said in a report: “We cannot change the past. But an institution can hold itself accountable for the past, accepting its burdens and responsibilities along with its benefits and privileges.”

The report added, “In the present instance this means acknowledging and taking responsibility for Brown’s part in grievous crimes.”

I was very moved to see Brown step up to the plate, face its past ties to slavery, and make amends. There’s going to be a lot of debate about whether their proposed amends are adequate, or the right ones, or even, from those in the “Hey but everyone owned slaves back then” camp, whether amends needed to be made at all.

But what Brown is doing is an important first step towards acknowledging a past that no other northeastern university has owned, even though, as the article notes:

Even in the North (sic), a number of universities have ties to slavery. Harvard Law School was endowed by money its founder earned selling slaves for the sugar cane fields of Antigua. And at Yale, three scholars reported in 2001 that the university relied on slave-trading money for its first scholarships, endowed professorship and library endowment.

Ruth J. Simmons is going where no other northeastern university president has gone. I hope that her actions spark debate and mobilize others to look into the sources that funded their educational institutions in the past.

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nancy in nyc

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