What does an institution do when a proud history turns out to have some uncomfortable caveats?
Take Scotland’s University of Glasgow. Its staff members figured prominently in Britain’s anti-slavery movement before the transatlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807; among its alumni is James McCune Smith, an emancipated slave who in 1837 became the first African-American to graduate from medical school after being shunned by US schools.
But last year the school acknowledged it benefited significantly in the past from bequests rooted in slavery wealth, and began to explore how to respond. This week it issued a report saying it wanted “to fully engage with the history … recognising that the heritage of historical slavery continues to shape our lives and society.” First steps, it says, include better addressing racial diversity on campus, creating an academic center to study of all forms of slavery, and naming a major building after a “significant” figure (perhaps Smith).
Instead of ducking an uncomfortable truth, the school is moving to embrace it. Afua Hirsch, a Guardian columnist of color, noted that “the University of Glasgow should be applauded for breaking through the paralysis of fear and denial” when it comes to debating Britain’s history with slavery. The university, meanwhile, noted that it could deploy its values of “justice and enlightenment” to understand its past, “while moving forward in new directions….”
Now to our five stories, including a deeper look at leverage in a trade war, a moderate challenge to political Islam, and how two towns are responding as legal cannabis comes to Canada.
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