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Davidson College Commission on Race and Slavery

Several months ago, with the leadership of faculty, staff and students, Davidson College expanded our commitment to building and strengthening campus and community dialogue around the issues of justice, equality and community.  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation last December awarded the college a $1.2 million grant to pursue new courses and collaborations with the community to help build broader public discussion, active citizenship and global problem-solving.

That effort requires looking inward.  In our grant proposal last fall, we noted that our initiative would include a critical examination of Davidson's own history with respect to race. 

A few weeks ago, those goals grew even more urgent.

The recent events in Charlottesville bore witness to hate that is propagated by those who threaten our collective public life and is antithetical to Davidson's values and our nation's promise. 

Davidson's mission includes cultivating humane instincts, recognizing the dignity and value of each person. That mission is informed by a quest for truth about our own past.

To this end, I am creating the Davidson College Commission on Race and Slavery, to be made up of students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and community members. Their draft charge is as follows:

In keeping with Davidson's commitment to the quest for truth, the Commission will assist the college community in building a comprehensive understanding of the college's own history, which is intertwined with the institution and legacies of slavery and the lives of enslaved persons. The Commission will guide the development and launch of research projects and additional teaching and learning initiatives through which the Davidson community can investigate and acknowledge the college's history with slavery and race as well as its historical relationships with African American communities.

These initiatives will include (among others):  teaching, research, scholarship, educational exhibitions, public events and other means of community engagement, college-created media content and  permanent recognition of these aspects of our history.

This group will determine the answers to critical questions, such as:

  • The form this campus conversation will take.
  • The role of research and teaching in this effort.
  • The best use of previous work on this topic, such as the Davidson College archival research project "Always Part of the Fabric." 
  • The optimal ways/locations to create permanent recognition, or markers, and what elements of our history they should address.

We expect to complete appointments to the commission within the next month and for their initial work to carry on through next summer.

This step follows our joining the consortium, Universities Studying Slavery (USS), last month. USS addresses issues of race and inequality in higher education and in university communities, as well as the legacies of slavery.

We have a responsibility as a liberal arts college to demonstrate the crucial value of scholarly inquiry to public life and to fulfilling this country's promise.  To seek a full understanding of the college's history with respect to slavery and race is to honor our commitment to the quest for truth as we strive to prepare students for thoughtful, creative lives of leadership in service to humanity.

Our efforts are strengthened by our primary purpose, the closeness of the Davidson community and the support and commitment to the college found there.

In the coming days, I will meet with faculty, the Student Government Association, our staff council, and additional campus groups to talk about the commission and its charge. We will also engage the Alumni Association and our broader constituencies.