Rice University Becomes the 63rd School to Join Universities Studying Slavery!

The Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium continues to grow and expand its reach geographically. As James T. Campbell, a historian at Stanford University who chaired the Brown University effort, noted in 2017 in reflection on the growing number schools coming to terms with slavery and racism in their past, “The more that have done it, the more the center of gravity has shifted … Now, the question you’d be asked would be, Why wouldn’t you? Every other university has done this work.”

We agree and are thrilled to announce that Rice University in Houston, Texas, has signed on and joined the growing effort. Rice is the first institution in Texas to participate. At this point in early 2020, 63 schools in 18 different states and 5 countries have all launched programs. Please welcome Rice University to the team.

In 1891, Massachusetts-born businessman William Marsh Rice chartered the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art as a gift to the city of Houston, where he made his first fortune. The terms of the gift required that work on the new institute would begin only after Rice’s death.

In 1907, the first president of Rice called for the establishment of a university “of the highest grade,” “an institution of liberal and technical learning” devoted “quite as much investigation as to instruction.” [We must] “keep the standards up and the numbers down,” declared Edgar Odell Lovett. “The most distinguished teachers must take their part in undergraduate teaching, and their spirit should dominate it all.”

The Rice Institute opened in 1912 with 77 students enrolled in that initial academic year taught by a dozen faculty. Four years later, at the initial commencement, 35 bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree were awarded, with the first doctorate conferred in 1918. In 1959, it became Rice University. Today, it is a member of the Association of American Universities and has nearly 4,000 undergraduate students in 11 residential colleges and 2,800 graduate students in 37 different programs.

At its founding, the university prohibited black students from enrolling. Rice trustees reversed that policy through court action in the early 1960s. Although Rice University was founded nearly fifty years after the abolition of slavery, Rice has historical connections to that part of American history and the segregation and racial injustice that resulted directly from it. Thus, in June 2019, Rice President David W. Leebron and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda established a Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, and Racial Injustice.

The Task Force has been charged to:

  1. Develop and participate in the implementation of a plan for discovering, documenting, acknowledging, and disseminating Rice’s past with respect to slavery, segregation, and racial injustice, as well as an understanding of how that history may continue to inform and shape the present state of the university.
  2. Develop campus wide programming to support frank and honest discussion of Rice’s entanglement with slavery, segregation, and racial injustice, as well as opportunities for community members to envision paths for Rice moving forward. This will include the invitation of speakers to bring to campus to foster dialogue around these issues.
  3. Identify suggestions for Rice’s future for our students, our faculty and staff, and our relationship with our home community of Houston that will more fully realize our aspirations for a diverse and inclusive university.

In the Fall of 2019, twenty-five members of the university community, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni, were appointed to the Task Force, which is chaired by Dr. Alexander X. Byrd and Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel, both associate professors of history. Rice University’s leadership additionally has called for broad engagement from the entire university.

Please welcome Rice University as the newest Universities Studying Slavery (USS) member. We know Rice’s program will benefit greatly—just as so many other schools have—from participating in the USS effort. Even better, we look forward to another productive year with all of us learning from so many creative programs internationally!

February 2024 update: See Rice University Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, and Racial Injustice to learn more about the school’s progress.