Tulane University Joins Universities Studying Slavery!

As pandemic travel and gathering restrictions began to fall away in 2022 and 2023, Universities Studying Slavery (USS) has continued its return to in-person meetings and collaborations that started anew with the September 2022 conference at the University of Virginia. In March 2023, the University of North Carolina hosted a fantastic spring conference. The consortium continues to grow, and its success is really measured by the energy and goodwill of each participating school. The time in Chapel Hill was a powerful reminder of that reality.

Colleges and universities continue to launch comprehensive history review programs and connect with the more than one hundred schools in six countries currently doing this work. We are pleased to announce today that Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, has officially joined the movement!

Tulane’s history dates back to 1834, when the Medical College of Louisiana was founded to serve the rapidly expanding city of New Orleans. Tulane became a private university in 1884 when the public University of Louisiana was reorganized and named in honor of benefactor Paul Tulane, a wealthy merchant who bequeathed more than $1 million to endow a university “for the promotion and encouragement of intellectual, moral and industrial education.” A native of Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Tulane had made his fortune in New Orleans and his gift expressed his appreciation to this Southern city on the Mississippi River.

Until recently, the school had done little to more fully examine its own history. That all began to change in 2021 when Tulane President Fitts, as part of A Plan for Now, announced the creation of the Tulane History Project. Supported by the President’s Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, A Plan for Now encompasses current university initiatives that are helping Tulane become a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community for all. Tulane’s Strategy for Tomorrow builds on these efforts and guides future equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism initiatives across the university.

The Tulane University History Project is a long-term effort to research and develop a detailed history of the University and its campuses, with respect to its racial history and founding, including the impacts from segregation and slavery.  The history project encompasses a deep and rigorous historical study of Tulane University.  It covers the university’s founding as the Medical College of Louisiana in 1834 through the present day. The project will ultimately produce a nuanced, complex, and honest history of the university that engages its relationship with slavery, segregation, and issues of racial equity.   The History Project, housed in the Office of Academic Affairs and Provost, will be in conversation with those broader university EDI efforts.  The project will acknowledge and build upon existing research and scholarship of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others who have already researched aspects of Tulane’s racial history.  It will also explore new questions and pathways of learning that aid in producing a chronological biography of Tulane’s racial history.

Marcia Walker-McWilliams, Ph.D., will lead the Tulane History Project and its effort to develop that detailed history of Tulane with respect to its racial history and founding. Walker-McWilliams brings a wealth of experience in engaging stakeholders both within and beyond the academy in carrying out challenging, meaningful scholarship.

At Tulane, Walker-McWilliams will work with researchers, historians, archivists, and community members to conduct a deep, honest, and rigorous historical study of Tulane from its founding as the Medical College of Louisiana in 1834 to the present. One of the goals revolves around helping the university community understand the institution’s past with an eye toward creating a guide to a better future.

 The Tulane History Project will also be overseen by an advisory board co-chaired by Sally Brown Richardson, A.D. Freeman Professor of Civil Law and vice dean for Academic Affairs at Tulane Law School, and Halima Leak Francis, Ph.D., professor of practice and Public Administration Program director at the School of Professional Advancement. The advisory board includes a diverse group of faculty, staff, students, alumni, board members, and other community stakeholders who will help advise the project.

Taking an honest look at Tulane’s past is a necessary step in the university’s commitment to becoming a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive community.

To support this effort, Tulane has joined us here at Universities Studying Slavery (USS). USS is a leading resource for universities to share best practices and guiding principles in addressing both historical and contemporary issues regarding race and inequality, and we know Tulane’s History Project will benefit from all that the collective can provide.