p. The College is well-known for its colonial past, but a less-celebrated part of that history is its role in slavery. A recently passed Student Assembly bill, sponsored by Tiseme Zegeye ’08, seeks a Board of Visitors-established commission to investigate the College’s past.
p. The bill, entitled The Research Into and an Apology for William and Mary’s Role in Slavery Act, is part of a growing movement by states and universities to examine and, in some cases, apologize for their slaveholding pasts. In April, the Virginia State Senate and General Assembly voted to express “profound regret” for their slaveholding past, and the University of Virginia recently apologized as well.
p. “Some people think what I am doing is very radical and has come out of nowhere, but that is not true. Attempts to confront our racial past are happening all over the country,” Zegeye said in an e-mail.
p. The bill seeks to redress the College’s slaveholding past. According to a forthcoming publication by English professor Terry Meyers in the Bill of Rights Journal, the College owned a tobacco plantation whose slaves helped fund College scholarships.
p. In addition, many of the College’s most famous buildings, including Wren, the Brafferton and the President’s House, were likely built using slave labor, according to Colonial Williamsburg Historian Carl Lounsbury.
p. It was also reported that colonial students and professors were allowed to bring their personal slaves to school with them, and presidents of the College were known to own slaves.
p. Zegeye’s bill calls for the BOV to “establish a commission to research the full extent of the College of William and Mary’s role in slavery,” report its findings publicly and establish a memorial to the “contributions of slaves at the College.”
p. According to Zegeye, all senators were in favor of recommending that the BOV establish a commission, although some did not favor issuing a formal apology.
p. “It wasn’t something that the student senate needed to get involved in when we have so many other pressing issues,” Senator Joe Luppino-Esposito ’08 told the Daily Press. Luppino-Esposito voted in favor of establishing a commission.
p. Zegeye told The Flat Hat that she hopes to present a report to the Board in February detailing the request.
p. “I am asking the BOV to apologize because they represent WM as an institution, the same institution that was responsible for our role in slavery,” she said.