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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
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Founding of AU display

Exhibit in Bender Library displays AU’s history of slavery

Working group on slavery shows findings from first report

Since the Working Group on the Influence of Slavery on American University published its final report in late January of 2019, it has disseminated the findings through roundtables, AUx lessons and most recently, a display in Bender Library.

The display, commissioned by Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Fanta Aw, went up just before Founder’s Day in February – a year after former Eagle opinion editor Nickolaus Mack wrote a column criticizing the University’s failure to acknowledge its central founder’s connection to slavery.

“Something that was really profound for me is that this information now exists in the wall,” said Mack, a former member of the group who graduated last spring. “When you look at the impact and contributions African Americans have made to the University, to get it where it is today, it’s really rejoined with the physical construction of the University.”

The exhibit includes an abridged timeline with supporting documents and images. The library staff also provides access to the full timeline and report through an iPad next to the display. It will remain available in the library indefinitely until another exhibit replaces it, according to Leslie Nellis, the associate archivist for Digital and Records Management. 

“It is absolutely vital to have these conversations and this display is a small part of the Working Group recommendations and next steps,” said Nellis.

AU community reactions to the report and display have been mostly positive, according to Mack. 

“A lot of African American students come in first generation,” he said. “It’s about knowing your people have a connection to the university that goes further back than just you. There’s an African American history here that goes beyond just diversity initiatives.”

The exhibit provides an abridged version of this history. The working group’s website has more information about AU’s connection to slavery. 

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