Symposium will explore universities’ institutional history


As the University of Michigan seeks to better understand its history with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion, it will host a symposium focusing on what it means for universities to uncover and reckon with their institutional pasts.

The symposium, a partnership of U-M’s Inclusive History Project and the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, also will include a discussion of universities’ historical ties to slavery and broader histories of exclusion and discrimination.

It will take place at noon Feb. 10. The event has reached capacity for in-person participation, but those interested in joining virtually can do so by registering via Zoom.

Panelists representing projects from Brown University, Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will discuss the principles that have guided their institutions’ projects, the processes that have shaped them, the communities that have partnered with them, and the outcomes they have produced, including reparative measures.

The conversation will be moderated by the co-chairs of the Inclusive History Project:

  • Elizabeth Cole, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor; professor of psychology, of women’s and gender studies, and of Afroamerican and African studies in LSA; and director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity.
  • Earl Lewis, Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy; professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies in LSA and professor of public policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; and director and founder of the Center for Social Solutions.

Colleges and universities across the United States have been taking a hard look at their ties to slavery. In 2006, Brown published a landmark report showing that the university — from its construction to its endowment — participated in and benefited from the slave trade and slavery. Since then, many colleges and universities have disclosed their direct and indirect ties to slavery.

In more recent years, institutions have expanded their focus to consider the persistent legacies of slavery and other histories of discrimination and resistance on their campuses.

The symposium offers the opportunity to learn from these projects, and is the first of many events that will come from the Inclusive History Project, which is U-M’s multifaceted, years-long project to study, document and better understand the university’s history with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.

It is also part of the Eisenberg Institute’s two-year theme, Against History, which aims to unpack the divergent meanings and practices of history as well as the dangers of attempts to whitewash the complexities the past has to offer.


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