In addition to corporations, institutions of higher education are looking at history to study how slavery affected their development.
After three years of collecting data, a Brown University committee of faculty, students and administrators released an in-depth report Oct. 18 about the institution’s ties to the slave trade.
The university wants the report to be an ongoing initiative that will affect not only the campus and local community through academic activities, but inspire other universities to perform similar studies.
“Brown University’s report is by far the most extensive of any institution so far,” said Alfred Brophy, a professor at the University of Alabama who recently released a book titled “Reparations: Pro and Con.”
The steering committee created the “Slavery and Justice” report by researching facts and interacting with scholars and the community through workshops, panel discussions and conferences, according to the report.
“We’re hoping that what we’ve done will be some kind of example of trying to come to terms with at past that has been by and large not confronted,” said Omer Bartov, a Brown professor and member of the committee, according to http://www.insidehighereducation.com.
The committee’s recommendations in the study include creating a slave trade memorial on campus; increasing the recruitment of black students, commissioning a new history of Brown with more focus on the slave trade; developing a center for continuing research on slavery and justice; increasing the recruitment of black students; and working to enhance Rhode Island’s educational system and history curriculum.
Brophy said he believes Brown’s study will inspire more universities to look extensively into their past. He said Yale University released a report in 2001, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created an exhibit and panel in the fall of 2005 and the University of Alabama began discussing the issue in 2004.
“More schools – especially southern schools – need to follow Brown’s study,” Brophy said. “And there are many things schools can look at like the Jim Crow Era – not just slavery.”
Sylvester Cohen, a Florida A&M University black history professor, said many older American universities have ties to slavery, but they cannot all take the same approach to the issue.
“Many of the founders of these early schools had ties to slavery because most were slave-owners,” he said. “So slaves had to be involved with the process.”
In the report, the committee said they found ties to slavery in parts of their campus they never noticed, such as an antique clock located in one of the oldest buildings that was donated by a university trustee in the late 1700s.
The commission found he was a local ship captain who sailed to Africa for slaves.
Brown would have a deep tie to slavery, Cohen said, because during the time when only 13 colonies existed, Rhode Island was one of the country’s largest slave traders.
“Rhode Island used merchant companies and supplied large areas of the country with slaves,” Cohen said.
But it would be hard for other universities to compare to Brown, Cohen said. “Some schools are not going to be as affected by these types of studies.”
Brophy, whose recently published book focuses on types of reparations, said he believes the Brown report represents where the reparations movement is going.
“In the past, people discussed cutting money to individuals, but now there is more focus on how to repair harm and help whole communities with programs in healthcare, education and economic areas,” he said.
Brophy believes the type of reparation should differ among various types of institutions.
Colleges such as Brown, should use their education expertise to offer educational opportunities and do research, he said, while financial companies should offer some type of economic development.
While Brown’s report focused on academic initiatives and increasing black student enrollment, it does not offer any monetary form of reparations.
Adjoa Aiyetoro, co-president of the Legal Defense Research and Education Fund of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, said in The Brown Daily Herald that the university could have done more for the report to have a direct impact on blacks.
She suggested a targeted scholarship fund, but the university said that would conflict with their need-blind policy, which accepts students regardless of their ability to pay tuition.”I’m concerned that (the report) avoided a discussion of the need to award directly some sort of reparation for (Brown’s) historical racism (against blacks),” she told the Herald.Aiyetoro commended the research but said the study could have created a stronger model for other institutions to “heal the racial divide.”
But Brophy said reports like Brown’s are important because they can connect the past to the present.
He said more people would support programs and different types of reparations if they fully understood how the past continues to impact present problems.
“It’s an unpleasant history,” he said. “It’s destabilizing to talk about, but that’s why we need to talk about it.”