PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — This summer, incoming first-year undergraduates at Brown will critically examine the University’s historical connections to slavery as they read the “Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice,” the University’s selection for the 2021 First Readings program.
The report is the program’s selected text for a second consecutive year as part of a pilot to incorporate it more formally into first-year orientations. It was first selected in March 2020, months before the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others brought renewed attention to the continuing legacy of anti-Black violence in the U.S.
The 2006 text, frequently referred to as the Slavery and Justice Report, examined Brown’s historical ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and proposed actions for the University to hold itself accountable for the ways in which it benefited from its involvement with slavery. The report — composed by a committee of faculty, staff and students — has broadly influenced higher education’s engagement with institutional connections to slavery since it was first published.
First-year students will read it as communities nationwide continue to reckon with the impact of anti-Black racism on the country’s past and present, said Dean of the College Rashid Zia in a July 15 message announcing the selection to the Brown community.
“As we welcome our new students to campus this fall, I can think of no more appropriate reading to help our community define a shared understanding of place and purpose on College Hill,” Zia said. “Studying the past together provides us with an invaluable opportunity to better understand the present. Reflecting on the meaning of accountability, justice and repair can help us transform our collective future. We look forward to the reflection and discussions that will ensue from this reading.”
Students will have access to a digital First Readings edition of the report that presents historical documents cited in the report and provides supplemental materials, including readings, videos and transcripts of historical documents. The digital edition also enables students to highlight passages and add notes that are retained between logins.
First Readings is Brown’s annual summer reading initiative, in which a common reading experience introduces incoming undergraduate students to the University and to the rigors of academic life on College Hill. It culminates in small group discussion seminars guided by members of the Brown faculty during Orientation.
The students, faculty and staff on this year’s First Readings selection committee chose the Slavery and Justice Report from among a pool of texts — representing a range of periods, mediums and cultures — nominated by members of the Brown community.
This year’s selection committee included Zia and Anja Lee from the College; undergraduates Tanushri Sundar and Peter Zubiago; faculty members Matthew Guterl (American studies and Africana studies) and Gary Wessel (biology); and Sarah Evelyn, director of academic engagement for the humanities and social sciences at the University Library.