Universities Studying Slavery has for years expanded in exciting ways. Initially a small gathering of Virginia schools investigating connections to human bondage in college and university pasts, it quickly grew after 2016 to include schools across the United States as well as in four other countries. It has also expanded as schools have tackled other aspects of difficult history beyond human bondage. Member institutions now work to come to terms with Native discrimination and displacement, post-1865 anti-Black racism, as well as bigotry and marginalization of other groups. The consortium has also begun to expand beyond four-year colleges and universities, with two-year colleges and secondary schools signing on.
Today, we are excited to watch that expansion into college preparatory schools continue as we welcome the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts as the newest member of Universities Studying Slavery (USS).
Founded in 1778, two years after the issuing of the Declaration of Independence, Phillips Academy has a long history for a secondary school—a history that parallels the nation’s. And like the history of the nation, the history of Phillips Academy is varied and complex. The Academy rests on ground once inhabited by Indigenous Peoples. Some of the Academy’s roots stretch into slavery and the slave trade, while others reach back to the cause of abolitionism. Many Andover graduates fought for the Union in the Civil War; many fought for the Confederacy. During the nineteenth century, Phillips Academy admitted African American students, but only a handful. Abbot Academy, the neighboring sister-school to Phillips founded in 1828 to support and educate young women, refused admission to African American students until the mid-twentieth century at the behest of influential white families. These and other tensions exist in parallel with the ways the school has sought to position itself as a leading voice in the education of “youth from every quarter.”
The two gender-exclusive academies—Phillips and Abbot—merged into one school in 1973, and now after nearly five decades of gender-inclusive education, the Phillips Academy community of 2021 carries with it a complicated inheritance even as its doors have opened wider. This history, sometimes splendid, sometimes ugly, deserves careful, deliberate, scholarly engagement. Toward that end, the school has created the Committee on Challenging Histories at Phillips Academy.
The task of this committee is to begin this scholarship, to educate the community, and to reckon with the institutional past, including those elements of the physical campus that may represent vestiges of a troubled history.
We here at USS headquarters hope this is the beginning of a new phase of consortium expansion that spreads across at least the United States. We are honored to have the Phillips Academy become a new member and look forward to what is sure to be a fruitful dialogue about how to come to terms with hard histories.
Charge for the Committee on Challenging Histories at Phillips Academy:
- Commence preliminary research and investigation of historically significant elements of campus.
- Establish principles for considering elements of PA’s history that might call for reevaluation in light of PA’s identity and mission and for guiding any decisions made about possible alterations to the campus.
- Develop processes that would generate recommendations of actions to the Head and to the Board of Trustees grounded in these principles.
- Propose projects for the school to pursue in the future to better educate its community of administrators, alumni, faculty, staff, and students, as well as the public, about the complicated history of this Academy.
Again, please welcome the Phillips Academy to this growing movement of schools investigating their own pasts!