2023 continues to surprise in good ways, and that includes colleges and universities continuing to reach out to us here at Universities Studying Slavery (USS) headquarters at the University of Virginia to learn more about the consortium, to seek consultations, or to say “sign us up!” Today, we welcome LaGrange College in Georgia to our growing movement. LaGrange College is located in LaGrange, Georgia, about seventy-five miles southwest of Atlanta just east of the state border with Alabama.
Founded in 1831, LaGrange College is the oldest private educational institution in Georgia. The college was born as a college for women, opening its doors originally as the LaGrange Female Academy. In the 1930s, the college changed its name to LaGrange College, and began unofficially admitting men. LaGrange officially became coeducational in 1953.
LaGrange College is closely aligned with the United Methodist Church and takes as its educational foundation the work of John Wesley. The school’s mission statement calls it to be “an ethical and caring community that values excellence, service, civility, diversity and inclusion, [preparing] students to become successful, responsible citizens who aspire to lives of integrity and moral courage.” In service to these goals, LaGrange College strives to be an honest, respectful, and diverse institution. How LaGrange works with its students underscores the Methodist understanding of diversity and inclusion: while students, faculty, and staff are all different, everyone is of infinite worth and made in God’s own image.
As an institution that has operated in the rural South for nearly two centuries, LaGrange College has, for better and for worse, evolved with society. By acknowledging and celebrating the variety of lived experiences that have existed and currently exist on its campus, LaGrange creates opportunities for academic success for all. The school firmly believes it cannot move forward as an institution without acknowledging the entirety of its history and the roles played by everyone in the community. It cannot move forward as an institution without valuing each person’s experience on its campus, understanding that being an inclusive community implies that the voices of everyone are indispensable in cultivating our institution’s identity, and celebrating the impact of everyone who was part of the LaGrange College community over time.
It is this context that brings LaGrange to Universities Studying Slavery (USS). Desiring to model its mission statement and understand the nature of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) on its campus, LaGrange’s recently approved strategic plan, Empowering the Present, Embracing the Future includes several DEIJ-related initiatives. The college has created a DEI framework (see link) that will provide the lens through which it will begin to view the work that it does as an institution. In addition, the Board of Trustees at its April 2023 meeting endorsed the writing of a full institutional history.
Participation in USS is the next step for LaGrange College in understanding who they were, who they are, and who they hope to become. LaGrange College sees membership in USS as symbiotic: USS will help them understand best practices in understanding its historical identity and in raising the voices of everyone on their campus, and in time, they will be able to help other institutions taking the steps they take now.
As we often do here at USS, we say “Amen!” Glad to have LaGrange join us and 103 other institutions in six countries continue to do the difficult work of coming to terms with and learning hard histories as they envision a healthy twenty-first century future.