James Madison University Joins the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) Movement.

We are honored to share with the world the news that yet another school has joined the growing movement of universities studying their past involvement in slavery and histories of racism. Today, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, becomes the newest member of the Universities Studying Slavery team.

James Madison University President Alger created the school’s Task Force on Inclusion at James Madison University in September, 2017. The group was charged with considering inclusion-related concerns in multiple contexts. It is divided into four working groups: student climate, employee climate, classroom inclusivity, and history/context. The history/context group is charged with reviewing the history of the institution and considering how best to address that history going forward.

Established as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women in 1908, James Madison University opened at a time when de jure and de facto segregation were rapidly becoming the nation’s dominant ethos. From those origins through the decades of ‘massive resistance’ to federal desegregation mandates, the institution evolved into a diverse, co-educational, comprehensive university. Although it has no actual ties to slavery, James Madison University has had a powerful connection to Lost Cause narratives of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Old South, and it was twice named for a slaveholder (first in 1938 and again 1977). Today, the Lost Cause is manifest only in campus buildings named for Confederate heroes, however, the segregated past casts a much longer shadow.

The history/context group has been exploring best practices utilized by other institutions, including members of Universities Studying Slavery, and anticipates hosting multiple community-wide conversations. Its work is intended to inform that of the broader Task Force on Inclusion.