In First Readings, incoming students will examine Brown’s ties to the slave trade

For the third year in a row, Brown’s annual shared reading initiative will convene incoming first-year students for rigorous discussions about the University’s landmark Slavery and Justice Report, first released in 2006.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For the third year running, incoming undergraduate students at Brown will read and discuss the “Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice” as the selected text for the University’s First Readings program.

Since 2006, Brown’s annual shared reading initiative has introduced undergraduate students to the rigors of academic life on College Hill via a common reading experience. In past years, students have read such diverse books as “The Idiot,” a novel by Elif Batuman; “My Beloved World,” a memoir penned by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; and “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander’s investigation into the strong links between racial discrimination and mass incarceration in the U.S.

But since 2020, the University hasn’t strayed from selecting its landmark Slavery and Justice Report. Dean of the College Rashid Zia said that understanding Brown’s complex past can empower students to effect positive change in the future — both at the University and beyond its gates.

“This report was first nominated as the First Readings selection for new students entering in the Fall of 2020 by two dozen students, and selected in March 2020 by the committee before the tragic deaths of George Floyd and countless others brought renewed attention to the continuing legacy of anti-Black violence in the United States,” Zia wrote in a message to the University community. “As we welcome our new students to campus this fall and continue to grapple with these legacies, this critical reading serves to help our community define a shared understanding of place and purpose on College Hill.”

The University’s landmark Slavery and Justice Report, first issued in 2006, confronted and publicly documented Brown’s institutional ties to the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies of anti-Black racism. Brown was one of the first higher education institutions to launch such a sweeping investigation, and others have since taken similar action: In the last 16 years, more than 80 colleges and universities across the United States have followed in Brown’s footsteps, making commitments to research, acknowledge and atone for institutional histories linked with human bondage and racism.

This year, incoming students in Brown’s Class of 2026 will benefit from additional context and commentary provided in the Slavery and Justice Report’s second edition, released in Fall 2021. The new edition features essays that offer new insights on the persistent and evolving impact of Brown’s original report, written by steering committee members who co-authored the report, past and present students and faculty, and Brown’s current and past presidents, Christina H. Paxson and Ruth J. Simmons.

After reading the Slavery and Justice Report over the summer, students will gather on Tuesday, Sept. 6, for in-person seminars to discuss the text with a small group of their peers and a faculty or staff facilitator. The seminars coincide with Brown’s New Student Orientation, a series of opportunities that introduce newly arrived students to University history, traditions and values, and the rigorous academic life they’ll experience at Brown.