Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

“What would Tulane do?”

October 19, 2017

Tulane cannot trace any part of its history to a single sale or direct evidence of slave ownership. Rather, members of the Tulane community and descendants alike task it with holding itself accountable for the more nuanced history that underscores the charter’s allowance for educating the city’s “white young persons.”

University-led initiatives to increase diversity have sought to heal Tulane’s history of racial exclusion. Some believe, however, that repairing a history of racial oppression goes beyond admitting more students of color.

“It’s one thing to get accepted, it’s another thing that you can successfully matriculate to the environment in your tenure here,” Barber-Pierre said. “… Do you bring the numbers then change the environment? You gotta do both at the same time.”

One initiative that has been suggested is the development of a curriculum related to what it means to be an institution established in the American antebellum South, both for students and for New Orleanians.

“I know having gone to school in New Orleans, and as a child, I never got a true history of what New Orleans was to the slave industry, being a black person,” Harper Royal said. “I was never taught until I taught myself.”

For Tulane student organizers like Sydney Monix, a New Orleans native and Students Organizing Against Racism executive board member, Tulane must prioritize the public acknowledgment of its potential ties to slavery.

“Tulane has a moral obligation to accept and admit its history, past and present contributions to racism …” Monix said.

In the eyes of Monix and others, Tulane must now take what Georgetown took 18 months ago: a first step.

“I can say this … if Tulane does not want to find slaves that were associated with the university and their descendants, it almost certainly won’t,” Cellini said. “But if it does want to find those slaves and their descendants, it actually might. But you know the key moment is that intentionality at the beginning.”

As Adderley said, Tulane was founded in a city with one of the largest slave trade ports in the world, at a time when the United States was dependent on the labor of enslaved people.

“To be the leading, wealthiest research institution in that city, founded at the height of that blood-soaked wealth, what could we do to lead?” Adderley asked.  “What would Tulane do?”

An abridged version of this article ran in the Oct. 19 print edition of The Hullabaloo. 

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