Spurred on by the discovery of 67 unmarked graves in the area surrounding the University of Virginia cemetery, which are most likely the graves of slaves, President Sullivan and the President’s Cabinet were compelled to create a commission to explore the history of slavery at the university. The commission, made up of professors from all over the university, students, Monticello employees, library employees, a Board of Visitors representative, and more is designed to deal with how to commemorate the slaves who worked for the students, professors, hotels, etc. around UVa. There is also another project tasked with sifting through the mountain of paperwork about early life at the university that would give more insight into the everyday operations of student and slave life, with an end goal of having all of the documents scanned and available on the Internet.

Sadly, UVa is not on the cusp of researching and recognizing slavery in its history. Almost all southern institutions, and even the ivies, are guilty of ignoring their contentious history. Universities are finally starting to move on commemorating the contribution and lives of the slaves involved in said history. Brown, the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina, and others have, to varying degrees of dedication and success, started looking at their complicated pasts and erecting monuments to the slaves who worked there. Hopefully UVa will conduct a thorough investigation of slavery at the university and find an appropriate way to honor it.

UVA

One of the most important tasks of the commission is to educate the student body about the institution that made their beloved university possible. Most students are largely unaware or uninterested in the legacy that slavery has left, preferring to think that they have no hand in it and therefore can ignore it. However, open discourse about the ways that slavery built the university and kept it running for many years is healthy and necessary. It can also help reassess UVa’s attitude towards integration today, when, after listening to a panel of students from several minority groups, it seems that diversity is more important to the university than inclusion.

Speaker

MMMaurie McInnis is a professor of American Art and Material Culture at the University of Virginia, along with serving as the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at UVa. The majority of her research is about the cultural history of the colonial and antebellum period in the South, leading her to look at architecture, portraiture, furniture, and more. Her current position on the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University would make her an excellent speaker on the topic.

Session

Our class would take a guided tour of the cemetery and lawn with Professor McInnis, who would talk about the commission and the ways that slavery shaped the university. After the tour, we would have our session in the rotunda, inviting as many members from the commission as possible to field questions and participate in discussion. Students from a variety of other student organizations would also be present, such as the UGuides, African American groups, or others who are interested in the commission. The session would end with transduction students, either in groups or all together, suggesting ideas of ways to commemorate the work of the slaves.

Transduction Themes

Transduction comes into play when thinking about creating a monument to slavery and disseminating information to the student body about UVa’s past that extends beyond a blind love for Thomas Jefferson. What is the best way to commemorate slavery in a truthful way that doesn’t cast a bad light on the university? Would it be better for students to design and execute the memorial or for a professional artist/sculptor to do it? Where could a monument go with the lawn and surrounding area, the heart of the university, out of the question as a world heritage site? On the subject of educating the students, are the UGuides the best medium to spread awareness and knowledge about slavery at UVa? If so, can we trust the self-governance of the UGuides to handle the situation properly? These are just a few of the questions raised when thinking about the commission itself, without any of the concrete facts of life as a slave at UVa. This would be a great talk to look at the social and historical side of transduction, to see how energies expended years and years ago by slaves continue to affect and direct the course of the university.

More Information

“U.Va. President Appoints Commission on Slavery at the University” by Anne Bromley, September 12, 2013

Commission on Slavery and the University

University of Virginia

“University Cemetery Survey Yields More Grave Shafts; Commemoration Panel Formed” by Robert Hull, UVA Today, December 3, 2012

 

Proposed by Laura Reynolds.