Reckoning with racism

This week, college and university administrators across the country have been combing through old yearbooks as public officials have come under fire for racist imagery and offensive photos in back issues.

Though not surprised, as a historian, Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch was disheartened and disturbed to learn that old issues of The Howler include lynching references, racial slurs, Confederate symbols and photos of students wearing blackface.

“Wearing blackface is racist and offensive – then and now,” Hatch said. “The behavior in these images does not represent the inclusive University we aspire to be.

“As an academic institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and the motto of Pro Humanitate, we continue to explore and improve how to reconcile our complex history with the progress we’ve made and the sense of belonging we want everyone in our community to feel,” Hatch said.

“I am grateful for the faculty, staff, students and alumni whose commitment to living our values is evident as we strive to create a more diverse and inclusive learning environment.” Nathan O. Hatch, Wake Forest President

In keeping with this commitment, Wake Forest is one of many institutions exploring its historical relationship to slavery.

As Provost Rogan Kersh has shared with the campus community, Wake Forest joined the consortium of Universities Studying Slavery in 2016 to better understand the role of enslaved people in the founding of Wake Forest. A working group of faculty, staff and students interested in telling a more complete story about the histories of Wake Forest continues to examine the legacy of slavery.

Published in 1935, History of Wake Forest College, Volume I, 1834-1865 offers early and incomplete glimpses into historical ties to slavery. It documents how two enslaved people who helped construct the College Building lost their lives in a fall, and how other enslaved people were sold as part of a bequest. In an effort to fully understand the University’s past, Wake Forest has commissioned a Southern historian to do original academic research about the role of slavery and enslaved persons in our institution’s history.

“Historians and University leaders acknowledged our connection to slavery long ago. In recent years we have been focused on doing the work, which is a lifelong endeavor,” said José Villalba, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer.

“It is timely for Wake Forest to continue the work of looking at the past in order to take the right steps forward,” said Kelly Starnes (‘93, MBA ‘14), who serves as president of the Association of Wake Forest University Black Alumni (AWFUBA) and on the Alumni Council.

“It is not a case of a closed book but a new page to write on – and we need to write on that page together.” Kelly Starnes (‘93, MBA ‘14)

Categories: Alumni, President, Pro Humanitate, Provost, Student, Top Stories, Valuing Diversity