Administration calls for task force to address racial justice, university history
A task force on slavery, segregation and racial injustice has been established by the university, according to an email sent by President David Leebron and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda.
In the email, sent out on Tuesday, Leebron said that the task force was created to learn about instances of racial injustice in Rice’s past and examine ways to promote diversity and inclusion in its future.
“Although Rice University was founded nearly fifty years after the abolition of slavery, Rice has some historical connections to that terrible part of American history and the segregation and racial disparities that resulted directly from it,” Leebron wrote. “As a university, it is part of our obligation to understand our history, and its connection to our present, as best we can.”
According to Leebron’s email, the task force will be responsible for researching the history of these issues at Rice, in addition to hosting open discussions and invited speakers.
“[The task force will] formulate an implementation plan for its work, including the research into Rice’s history,” Leebron wrote in a separate email to the Thresher. “I would expect that ultimately the task force will present a report that is available to the community.”
Leebron and Miranda asked for engagement from the community, saying that the administration will be looking for input at the beginning of the fall semester. In his emails to both the university and the Thresher, Leebron said the Faculty Senate, students, staff and alumni will all be consulted in order to make the task force successful.
“We don’t yet have a chair of the task force, and as the note to the community indicated, we will not formally select the task force until the fall,” Leebron wrote. “In the meantime, we are receiving ideas, suggestions and volunteers.”
The Rice African Student Association responded to the announcement with a statement by Axel Ntamatungiro, RASA director of community and Chidera Ezuma-Igwe, RASA president, which said that they believe the task force is a “step in the right direction.”
“But, such a step must be taken in a manner that includes students of color in the conversation and especially at the table, Ntamatungiro, a Duncan College junior and Ezuma-Igwe, a Jones College senior, wrote. “Any reflection on the past should be coupled with deliberate planning on how to improve the current circumstances of Rice students of color. Atoning the ills of the past is a worthy goal, but there should be more emphasis on addressing the current needs of [students of color].”
Drew Carter, president of the Black Student Association, said in an email to the Thresher that he believes the task force will be beneficial if it is committed to discovering and disclosing all truth.
“However, if we limit what we will and will not address, then we will be harming a lot of people who count on Rice to foster transparency,” Carter, a Jones sophomore, wrote. “We need this to be for the education and betterment of the entire Rice community; in order to do so, we all have to be able to listen to the Black community at Rice which most directly feels the effects of not addressing our past if we truly want to continuously work towards a more inclusive Rice.”
Carter said that he does not believe there is currently a problem with transparency, but that the new task force needs to fully recognize all issues of the past and present.
“What I would like to make sure does not occur is that we do not minimize how large the effects of our past are and make any decisions to say that it is not possible for us to address something,” Carter wrote. “We have to be willing to grasp the size of the issue and equally come up with a solution that matches up.”
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“For a lot of people, you just got to know him over time and before you knew it you were pretty close — sometimes without even realizing it,” Heggie said. “All it took was sitting with him at dinner or playing a few games of pool.”
“He loved to cook, was an excellent chef and often invited whole gaggles of us over to his apartment, working in the kitchen and talking poetry to whoever was nearby while others lounged by the pool,” Johnson wrote. “When I joined the faculty at Rice, he showed me the way, provided an atlas, a compass through the morass of elite academia, and after the presidential election that first semester, often talked me off the proverbial ledge of rage or despair.”