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The Roberson Project (est. 2017)

The roots of the Roberson project on Slavery, race, and reconciliation, originally called the Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, are in the work begun during the 2015-2016 academic year, when students and member of the faculty and staff began a robust engagement with campus issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially concerning race. In response to these initial endeavors, the Provost appointed ten task forces in the spring of 2016 to study an array of related topics. One of the task forces focused on identifying campus monuments and memorials to the Confederacy and making recommendations on how the university should treat such tributes to its past. The provost followed up on these reports by appointing the Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Cohesion to evaluate and guide initiatives that emerged from the task force studies.

The Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation Project grew out of these early and important efforts. In late summer 2016 Vice-Chancellor John M. McCardell, Jr., and then-Provost John Swallow, C’89, arranged for Sewanee to join the “Universities Studying Slavery.” This international consortium consists of public and private institutions that have begun examining the “historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality” on their respective campuses. Woody Register, a 1980 graduate of the College and currently Francis S. Houghteling Professor of American History, and Tanner Potts, C’15, administrative assistant in the Executive Offices, attended the consortium meeting at the College of William and Mary in September 2016.

Upon returning to campus, Register immediately began planning Sewanee’s own institutional initiative. The following March, Register submitted a proposal for a six-year project beginning in July 2017. He proposed a project that aims to explore and make public Sewanee’s history, before, during, and after the Civil War through the century of Jim Crow segregation. In accepting the proposal, Vice-Chancellor McCardell and Provost Swallow named Register the Project’s director and Potts its research associate.

In August 2019, the Project was renamed in honor of the late Houston Roberson, who was the first tenured African American faculty member at the College and the first to make African American history and culture the focus of their teaching and scholarship. As the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, we seek to honor Dr. Roberson’s inspiring legacy. Today, Sewanee’s Roberson Project is among the most ambitious and far-reaching undertaken by a liberal arts college.