When it comes to diversifying curriculums and eliminating the attainment gap, many institutions have proved that old habits die hard and students have continued to rally for a more equal university experience. However, more and more universities are coming to acknowledge their racially problematic pasts, most notably, their historical links to the slave trade.
Over the past couple of weeks, Cambridge University has been making headlines after announcing plans to “conduct an in-depth academic study into ways in which it contributed to, benefited from or challenges the Atlantic slave trade and other forms of coerced labour during the colonial era”. This is after years of encouragement from academics, students and activists.
While the world-famous university is frequently criticised for lack of diversity, it is far from being the only institution to admit guilt in this area. Last September, Glasgow University announced a “reparative justice” scheme after discovering that the institution had “received significant financial support from people whose wealth at least in part derived from slavery”, despite playing a “leading role” in the abolishment movement. This month, the University of Bristol also promised to confront its links with the slave trade, despite the fact that the university was founded after slavery was abolished.
Dr Hannah Durkin, a lecturer here at Newcastle, recently made news for her discovery of the last survivor of a U.S. slave ship. When asked whether NU should be investigating its links to the trade, she argued that while “there were certainly wealthy families in the city that profited from slavery”, Newcastle was unlikely to have a strong connection with the trade.
“Newcastle University began life as two small medical and engineering colleges that were founded after the abolition of the trade, and I think the money that was used to set up the University of Durham (with which Newcastle shares a historical connection) came from the church. Newcastle's industry was centred on coal, it was on the wrong side of the country to be directly implicated in the trade, and it's very proud of its role in the abolitionist movement and association with Frederick Douglass.”