The University will offer a new class next semester titled “Slavery and Its Legacies.”
The class is an offshoot of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and will be taught by Prof. Kelley Deetz, the Commission’s research associate.
The course will focus on the role of the University and the surrounding areas in its discussion of slavery, Deetz said.
“It will be looking at slavery at the University and central Virginia — not slavery generally in the South,” Deetz said. “It’s bringing the narrative of slavery that most people are familiar with, localizing it on Grounds, and telling the history of the people who were enslaved at the University.”
It was easy for students to overlook the role of slavery in the University’s past, said Kirt von Daacke, the co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.
“What I’m struck by is, because this story is not visible on the lived landscape here, students often can make it four years and not understand that when the University opened there were 90-150 slave-people living and working on Grounds,” von Daacke said.
The decision to begin the course was the result of the 27-member commission convening and contemplating ways to respond to the President’s charge for recognition of the role that slave labor played in the early years of the University, von Daacke said.
“We began to think about, ‘What are the things we could do beyond issuing a report to President Sullivan detailing the history of slaves at the University?'” he said. “We have courses that address slavery and its long-lasting legacies, but [they have] not been connected in any coherent way.”
Multiple professors will take part in running the course, assigning readings and teaching, von Daacke and Deetz said. University professors Claudrena Harold, Alan Taylor and Milton Vickerman will all instruct different sessions.
“It’s a team-taught course so it’s a really good opportunity to get a vast sampling of some of U.Va.’s best professors who teach or research issues related to slavery and its legacies,” Deetz said. “The whole point is to teach the history of slavery at the University but also to help introduce students to professors they may not get a chance to take classes with.”
Current events such as the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore served as a timely reminder of the importance of classes of this nature, von Daacke said.
“The elements of what we often think of as the distant past are still here with us,” von Daacke said. “As the events were unfolding, we had a good idea that this course would be a powerful way to educate current and future students about these issues.”
Correction: This article previously contained inaccuracies in Prof. Deetz's quotes. This version has been updated to reflect her original statements.
Read this article translated into Chinese here.