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Addressing Universities' Historic Ties to Slavery Open Access

Over the past twenty years, there has been a growing movement of universities in the United States acknowledging and addressing their historic ties to slavery. Evidence presented by these universities and by outside researchers irrefutably demonstrates that higher education institutions in the United States permitted, protracted, and profited from the African slave trade. Slaves constructed buildings, cleaned students' rooms, and prepared meals; slave labor on adjoining plantations funded endowments and scholarships; slaves were sold for profit and to repay debts; and even outside of the direct exploitation and selling of slave labor, both northern and southern universities benefited greatly from the antebellum slave economy. Higher education institutions in the United States are revered worldwide for their academic achievements; however, what has been overlooked until recently is how these universities touted Enlightenment values while simultaneously benefiting directly and indirectly from the enslavement of human beings. Using research gathered through a review of the literature on the topic, this project begins with a study of the history of slavery at three colonial-era American universities, as well as the apologies and initiatives that have been issued by these universities in response. This project also includes the challenges that have been made by both supporters and critics of institutional apologies. Rather than definitively conclude if and in what way universities should make amends for their historic ties to slavery, the goal of this project is to more broadly consider how universities can authentically address their past while making intentional efforts to ensure a just and equitable future.

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