The Universities Studying Slavery continues to grow. We are thrilled to welcome Dickinson College to the team. As with so many other schools, these projects are often born in questions and conversations started by students and their professors.
Students and faculty at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania have been striving to gain a better understanding of how their institution was connected to the rise and fall of American slavery. With this initiative, spearheaded by the House Divided Project in 2018-19, Dickinson now joins a number of American colleges and universities that have begun serious reexaminations of their historical connections to (and complicity with) enslavement. Dickinson started as a grammar school in 1773 and received its charter as a college in 1783. During this founding period, slavery in Pennsylvania was still legal. The school closed briefly during the 1830s, but soon reopened. The new Dickinson stood apart in the antebellum period, however, because it was one of the few schools that drew students about equally from free and slave states. The result was a particularly intense conflict among Dickinsonians over the morality of slavery. After the Civil War, these debates –now over the meaning of freedom– continued both at the college and in the surrounding community. Almost everyone struggled with how to live up to the ideals of emancipation during a period when northern reality was still full of color prejudice.
- Dickinson College has launched a website that collects some of their initial research into these various subjects, aspiring to build more sustained discussion and to help bring to life the stories of the Dickinsonians who survived the era of American slavery.
- The school has a public exhibit on Dickinson & Slavery that opens on Friday, February 1, 2019 at the House Divided Studio at 61 N. West Street in Carlisle, PA.
- Dickinson is also finishing an initial report with recommendations on how to better commemorate this subject in the future.
Undergraduate students who have made significant contributions to this project include: Sarah Aillon (Class of 2019), Trevor Diamond (Class of 2017), Amanda Donoghue (Class of 2019), Frank Kline (Class of 2019), Rachel Morgan (Class of 2018), Sarah Goldberg (Class of 2018), Becca Stout (Class of 2019), Naji Thompson (Class of 2019), Sam Weisman (Class of 2018), and Cooper Wingert (Class of 2020).
We are once again reminded of how important it is to bring students into these truth-telling projects. Confronting difficult pasts at any university studying slavery or racism in its history creates countless opportunities to use a school’s past as a living learning laboratory in the present.