Today, Sept. 8, 2020, the University of the South released a statement “categorically rejecting its past veneration of the Confederacy and of the ‘Lost Cause’ and wholeheartedly committing itself to an urgent process of institutional reckoning in order to make Sewanee a model of diversity, of inclusion, of intellectual rigor, and of loving spirit in an America that rejects prejudice and embraces possibility.”
This comes as the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation at the University of the South continues its research, begun in 2017, to investigate the University’s historical entanglements with slavery, its legacies, and white supremacy. The project’s name memorializes Houston Bryan Roberson, the late professor of history and Sewanee’s first tenured African American faculty member. Learn more about the project here.
After nearly four years of exacting research, the Roberson Project has delivered a Research Summary that provided the Board with a detailed history of the University’s relationship with slavery. The authors of the summary are Dr. Woody Register, C’80, Francis S. Houghteling Professor of American History and director of the Roberson Project; and the Rev. Dr. Benjamin King, professor of Christian History. The Roberson Project Working Group, composed of students, faculty, and staff, also contributed to these findings. You can read the full Research Summary here.
The Board of Regents statement explained that the University’s history is complex, not unlike the history of the United States of America. “In this long-overdue American moment of confronting systemic racism four centuries after Jamestown, two and a half centuries after the founding of the American republic, a century and a half after the Civil War and the launching of this University, and more than half a century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the University acknowledges that a compelling task of our time is repairing the damage caused by the enslavement and exploitation of Black people by intergenerational racism, by inequality of opportunity, and by the perpetuation of the gap between America’s ideals and the undeniable inequities bound up in identity, chiefly racial identity.”
“In recognizing without equivocation what Sewanee once advocated, the University liberates itself to embrace a new role for which its story has in fact granted it special provenance: to lead in embracing equality and inclusion because the stark lesson of our own history shows us that only in recognizing our common humanity can we become what we are fully capable of being,” stated Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety. You can read Brigety’s letter here.
The University will undertake several initiatives in the months and years to come. These include focusing on diversity among the student body, staff, and faculty; developing a comprehensive truth and reconciliation program around race; evaluating the names and history of monuments and buildings on campus; and supporting faculty to incorporate fresh innovations in teaching and mentoring.