Simmons expects to issue Slavery and Justice response in February

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Herald Poll

As President Ruth Simmons prepares to address recommendations made by the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Herald poll results show students largely support the committee’s recommendations. Simmons wrote in a Nov. 30 e-mail to the committee’s members that she hopes to issue a formal response after the Brown Corporation’s February meeting.

Simmons wrote that her office has begun discussing the report and its recommendations with University constituencies and will continue to do so throughout the month. She will talk about the report and its recommendations at a faculty meeting today and will meet in the coming weeks with other bodies, including the Brown University Community Council, the Advisory Council on Admission and the Brown Corporation’s advisory and executive committee, she wrote in the e-mail.

Input from those outside the immediate Brown community is also expected. “A number of public officials have indicated their intent to comment formally on the recommendations and we are awaiting that input,” she wrote.

Simmons wrote that, following this period of consultation, she expects to draft an official response in January, which will be sent to members of the committee and the Corporation and will be on the agenda for the Corporation’s February meeting.

“Following that meeting, I would hope we could issue a formal response,” she wrote.

Since its Oct. 18 release, the committee’s report has garnered media coverage in more than 100 outlets and stimulated some discussion on campus. But Simmons’ e-mail described the response as “somewhat more muted than anticipated,” and the Herald poll results show that many students are unfamiliar with the report’s recommendations.

Almost half of students have not read reportThe most widely approved recommendation among student respondents to the Herald poll was the establishment of a center for the study of slavery on campus, with 59.9 percent in favor and only 16.4 percent opposed.

The recommendation to recruit students from Africa and the West Indies received the lowest approval rating of 44.3 percent, with 21.1 percent disapproval and 34.4 percent respondents providing no opinion.

The poll also found that students support the creation of a memorial on campus and holding an annual day of remembrance.

But many students, the poll found, have not read the report. 44.9 percent of respondents either had not heard of the committee or indicated they did not plan to read any part of the report, and many respondents indicated they had no opinion on the recommendations.

The poll was administered to undergraduate students between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3 and has a 3.8 percent margin of error.

Students familiar with the recommendations told The Herald that establishing the center is a recommendation they particularly support.

“I thought the idea of the center was interesting because it is something that would be unique to Brown,” said Tyler Waywell ’10.

Nate Johnson ’10 said he read the report in his first-year seminar, AF 11: “Facing the Past: The Politics of Retrospective Justice.” He said he especially liked the idea of the center because of its focus on education. “I don’t think anyone can say there’s anything wrong with studying something,” he said. “It will pull out the truth, and it will pull out the facts.”

Johnson was less enthusiastic about the recommendations he viewed as less directly tied to the problem of slavery, such as admission recruitment in Africa and the West Indies and increasing support for public schools. It is difficult, he said, to sort out the difference between people who are disadvantaged because of the legacy of slavery and those who face disadvantages for other reasons.

“They’re all good things to do, though,” he added. “I’m fine with it as long as something is being done.”

One first-year, who asked not to be named, said he did not approve of recruitment in Africa and the West Indies because “it is in the same vein as reparations.” Although some people in those areas were affected by slavery, he noted, those who would benefit from such a policy might not have been affected.

En-Ling Wu ’08, who said she read the report, liked the idea of making amends through recruitment but said, “It doesn’t really address increasing outreach or recruitment of students of color within the U.S.”

Many students, like Eliana Reyes ’09, said they were not familiar enough with the report or its recommendations to offer an opinion.

“I heard it was long,” Reyes said. “I haven’t had time (to read it).” She added that she wasn’t sure where to find the report.

“I’ve been feeling guilty about not reading them,” Molly Young ’07 said of the recommendations. “I don’t know what any of them are.”

Committee members respond to pollSteven Cornish, associate dean of the College and a member of the committee, said the general support expressed in the poll reflects recognition on the part of the student body “that a wrong was done and there really had been no effective mechanism for redressing it, (and) … the report is a step in that direction.”

Cornish said student support of the initiatives would be important moving forward. “Obviously you don’t want to make recommendations that stand the chance of failing because there’s no student support for them,” he said.

Cornish added he was not surprised the recommendation for a center met with the greatest student support. “(A center) would fall most clearly in line with the mission of the University” to research and educate, he said. “It’s the most easily understood recommendation.”

Ross Cheit, associate professor of public policy and a committee member, agreed. “It’s the recommendation that best fits what we do,” he said.

Cheit expressed surprise that increasing the recruitment from Africa and West Indies did not receive a more positive response, noting that the committee was only advocating that the University seek to generate more applications from those areas, not give preference to those applicants.

How recruitment in Africa and the West Indies might be implemented remains unclear, Cornish said. “Students probably jumped to a conclusion that if we recruit more students from Africa and the West Indies that will decrease the chances of students like them being admitted,” he said, referring to lower approval for the recommendation.

Cheit said he expected the committee’s recommendation for increased University support for local public schools would generate “a lot of interesting conversations.” The Herald poll did not solicit response to that recommendation.

Cheit also said he was somewhat disappointed by the lack of strong opinions about the recommendations.

He described the committee’s Nov. 1 forum to solicit feedback from the community as “a little too much of a love-fest” and said he is concerned that those who are opposed to the recommendations may not voice their opinions.

Cornish said the poll results confirm that students have not been engaged by the report or had the chance to consider the recommendations. He said some committee members were disappointed by the level of student engagement to date but not necessarily surprised, given students’ busy schedules.

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