A report commissioned by Brown University over a decade ago revealed that the school’s namesake family was deeply involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Citing the school’s history with slavery, the school’s undergraduate students have voted in favor of the university providing reparations for descendants of those who were enslaved.
According to CNN, in 2003 a report was commissioned by the university’s first Black president, Ruth J. Simmons, to investigate the Brown family’s ties to the slave trade. The report was eventually released in 2006 and found that the Brown family had taken multiple trips to Africa with the sole purpose of acquiring slaves. Undergraduate Council of Students (UCS) President Jason Carroll, whose parents are both descendants of slaves, proposed the vote and also wrote a referendum demanding the university finally take action on the report.
“We have a whole new direction as a nation, a whole new understanding of Black advocacy. I think before this past summer saying you support Black Lives Matter was honestly somewhat controversial,” Carroll said. “It wasn’t until the murder of Mr. [George] Floyd and the protests last summer that it became something that was mainstream enough that universities like Brown would say it.”
Over 2,000 students participated in the vote, with the majority in favor of providing preferential treatment to students whose ancestors were enslaved.
For specific communities found to have direct ties to the slave trade, the vote asked for targeted investment, engagement efforts, recruitment in high schools with large Black student populations, and relationships and partnerships with colleges and universities near descendent communities, such as in southern states.
A total of 2,024 students voted when the final tally was taken Friday, and over 80% voted in support of reparations for descendants.
“The university gets to make up its own mind when it comes to the student body... but what’s important is getting the word out that the vast majority of students did approve of something. The ball is in the university’s court now,” Carroll said. “It’s really an expression of student sentiment.”
Carroll, a senior, said the richness of what Brown’s history can mean for communities affected by the slave trade and directly tied to the university. The vote on his referendum also called for more identification of those directly affected by the Brown family’s actions.
“Although we can’t all go back and change the past, both private and public institutions in the US have the opportunity and responsibility to reconcile the unaccounted for and unpaid labor that gave them their power by giving back to the communities they’ve helped marginalize,” Lauren Wilson, co-president of Brown’s Black Student Union, told CNN.
As Carroll mentioned, the students have voiced their opinion on the direction they want the university to take, and now it’s on the university to determine how, if at all, it will respond to the student body’s vote.
“Confronting questions of reparations and institutional reckoning with connections to the transatlantic slave trade has a deep history at Brown,” university spokesman Brian Clark told the news outlet.
“The university interrogated this issue as a full community from 2003 to 2006, and Brown committed to a series of actions whose impact persists in our education, research, engagement with historically underrepresented groups and ongoing work in diversity, equity and inclusion. The current work of Brown’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism will make recommendations on more Brown can do to address the legacy of slavery,” he added.
While it’s unclear if the school is going to take action on any of the students’ proposals, it’s at the very least heartening to see that a large portion of the student body is in favor of trying to rectify the mistakes of the past.