In addition to carrying out the initiatives developed in the strategic plan, Chancellor Edwards has led the university in tackling some of its most pressing social and political issues. With an eye on both the university’s past and future, Dr. Edwards empaneled the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History and the Task Force on Inclusion and Community Values, which seek to answer what the institution was in its early founding and what it aspires to be in the future.
In the fall of 2015, college campuses across the country were home to student protests inspired by demonstrations and turmoil that took place in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and other cities throughout the country. Within this larger socio-political context, Chancellor Edwards established the Task Force on Inclusion and Community Values to broaden conversations about inclusion and race at Rutgers–New Brunswick.
The task force was formed to gather information on the racial climate on campus; examine issues of race, bias, and identity; explore inclusivity; and make recommendations on possible areas for improvement.
Co-chaired by Brianna Battle, vice president of RUSA and School of Arts and Sciences senior, and Edward Ramsamy, associate professor and chair of the Africana Studies Department, the task force is comprised of students, administrators, and faculty from various ethnic, religious, and intellectual communities who broadly represent Rutgers–New Brunswick.
The task force has solicited input from students, faculty, and administrators on a wide range of issues, including perspectives on the culture and climate of inclusiveness on campus and suggestions on possible initiatives and programs that would strengthen Rutgers’ commitment to diversity. The group has focused its efforts on several working themes, including curriculum reform and faculty issues; defining core values; focus groups and town hall organizing; and training, new initiatives, and programming.
In November 2015, Chancellor Edwards announced the creation of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, chaired by Deborah Gray White, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History. Since its formation, the committee has worked diligently to trace the university’s early history and its relationship with local African-American and Native-American communities.
With active participation from students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, faculty, staff, and local historians and librarians, the committee has conducted painstaking research to re-examine the university’s roots, including locating and studying the wills of Rutgers’ founders and benefactors and other archived documents.
This key effort aims to elucidate the social and political lives of New Brunswick’s African-American community, both enslaved and free, and of the Lenni-Lenape (the native tribe that lost possession of the land on which the university is built).
In November 2016, the committee intends to release a collection of essays on its findings, including essays and articles about the slave ownership of Rutgers’ founders; the social and cultural lives of the Lenni-Lenape; and the displacement of Native Americans in this area in the 17th century. The book will mark a substantive beginning for a long-term project of researching Rutgers’ history with African Americans and Native Americans, and will be accompanied by a related digital project.
Contributing to an enhanced knowledge of the university’s colonial roots, the committee’s work will help to pave the way for the creation of a heritage trail at Rutgers–New Brunswick, with dedicated campus markers to highlight the history of African Americans and Native Americans during this institution’s early history.