Brown University has announced a series of new commitments to atone for the institution’s ties to slavery, including continuing academic partnerships with several historically Black colleges and universities that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. The new programs follow a report of the school’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, released last October, that found much of Brown’s endowment came from slave owners’ wealth.
A university spokesman says Brown will also continue to expand its exchange program with Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., a program that has existed since the mid-1960s. The academic partnerships with other HBCUs will include two-way exchange programs of students, faculty and other resources, the spokesman adds.
But the most significant commitment is to public schools in Providence, which includes a $10 million endowment to create The Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence. That endowment, which the university will begin raising immediately, will be invested within the university’s own endowment. The university will also appoint 10 new Urban Education Fellows — graduate students who agree to serve at least three years in Providence-area schools after earning either a Master of Arts in teaching or a Master of Arts in urban education policy at Brown.
President Ruth J. Simmons says one of the clearest messages in the Slavery and Justice report is that institutions of higher education must take a greater interest in the health of their local communities.
“Lack of access to a good education, particularly for urban schoolchildren, is one of the most pervasive and pernicious social problems of our time. Colleges and universities are uniquely able to improve the quality of urban schools. Brown is committed to undertaking that work,” Simmons says.
Simmons also indicated other provisions in the university’s response, such as asking city and state officials to join it in forming a commission to determine how the history of the slave trade in Rhode Island might best be acknowledged in a memorial.
Brown will also appoint a committee to explore how best to carry out a major research and teaching initiative on issues of slavery and justice, building on resources in its academic departments and centers. It will also appoint a team of outside experts to recommend how it might strengthen its Department of Africana Studies.
The Slavery and Justice report mentions Henry Laurens, a planter and political leader, who ran the largest slave-trading house in North America in the 1750s. His firm, Austin and Laurens, handled the sales of more than 8,000 Africans. Laurens donated £50 to the College of Rhode Island, the original name of the university.
Brown’s founder, the Rev. James Manning, freed his only slave but accepted donations from slave owners and traders, including the Brown family of Providence. One family member, Nicholas Brown Jr., is the university’s namesake.
For more information on the report and the university’s response, visit www.brown.edu/slaveryjustice.
— By Shilpa Banerji
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