By Julianna Morgan
Sewanee has recently introduced the class “Slavery, Race, and the University” into the curriculum. This class explores the history of slavery and its connection to universities. Specifically, it will look into Sewanee’s own history with slavery by dissecting different monuments, memorials, and other artifacts on campus that shed light on the University’s past.
The class is taught by Dr. Woody Register, who is a professor in the history department and the director of the Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation.
When asked what the class will entail, Register said the class will look into “the University’s entitlement to slavery.” The class focuses on the founding era of the University and the people who were instrumental in putting it together. According to Register, “One aspect of the class is to know our own history. Engaging with the questions of why we need to know this history.”
He said this will allow the University and its students to know what they need to to do now and in the future, once learning about how we acted in the past. The class will also have an artistic aspect. They will be working with artist Vesna Pavlović, who is a professor of art and photography at Vanderbilt. Currently, she has a exhibit in the University Gallery entitled Fabrics of Socialism.
The class and Pavlović will be collaborating by having an archive collection, of one family’s papers, made into an artistic presentation. This will be done in October and will be open to the public. Register emphasized the need to have the students think about how to share the University’s history with the public.
“We will be conscious of creating knowledge about this University’s history with slavery,” Register said.
Additionally, he said, “The project is not just a scholarly investigation. We want it to be something that interests the classroom, having students fully engaged.” He hopes students will participate in debating and analyzing the University’s history and what happened in the University’s past.
The class will also relate the University’s history to other universities around the country, specifically to both public and private schools in Georgia and Alabama. The class is teaming up with students from Morehouse College and Spelman College, two predominantly black colleges in Atlanta. Sewanee has a $36,000 grant to collaborate with these schools.
The class will be going down to Atlanta in a few weeks and the Atlanta students will be coming to Sewanee in November. There will be a year-round gathering to discuss the topic at hand.
“This is about Sewanee students getting to reflect along with students from Spelman and Morehouse about these central questions of our time,” Register explained.
A lot of discussion has come up over the past few years about what exactly is Sewanee’s history with slavery and how to address this past and learn from it. This new class is a chance for Sewanee to answer those questions and have students be at the forefront of that discovery.
“This is a chance for Sewanee students, faculty, and community to participate in producing our own history, rather than having others producing it for us,” said Register. “It’s very important for Sewanee today and in the future.”