University Consortium Addresses History of Slavery and Its Continuing Impact
October 03, 2018

The University of Virginia (UVA) has organized a consortium called Universities Studying Slavery (USS) that brings together over 40 colleges and universities across the country and world to share resources as they confront the role of slavery and racism in their histories and its impact today.

USS began as an informal working group between several Virginia institutions undergoing similar initiatives to research and be more open about their relationship to slavery and slave labor. UVA observed that many of its neighbors were pursuing projects similar to its own President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, such as the College of William & Mary’s Lemon Project, and saw an opportunity to learn from each other.

 Of course, slavery reached beyond just the American South, and as more colleges and universities joined, the geographic regions represented expanded as well. In 2016, USS welcomed its first international participant, Dalhousie University in Canada, followed by institutions from England and Scotland the following year (see this PRI’s The World segment on USS member University of Glasgow’s ties to slavery). University College Cork from Ireland has now joined as well.

Also in 2017, Brown University (RI) joined the consortium, although it had already been reckoning with its own history for over a decade and served as a model for other institutions. Former Brown President Ruth Simmons discussed the process during a plenary speech on “Facing History” at ACE’s 100th annual meeting, along with the President John DeGioia of Georgetown University, which is also a member of USS.

USS membership is now open to “any school contemplating or already investigating its own history as it relates to slavery or racism.” The consortium hosts semi-annual meetings to share strategies, research, and knowledge. The fall 2018 meeting will be held at Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

At a Glance

Member Institution: University of Virginia

Initiative: Universities Studying Slavery

Goal: Allow participating institutions to work together as they address both historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education and in university communities as well as the complicated legacies of slavery in modern American society.