Remembering Race at Brown

Inspired by Brown’s 250th anniversary, the sophomore seminar Race and Remembering collaborated to critically examine race at Brown University. This digital exhibit highlights University legacies of erasure and histories of resistance. This is a call to REMEMBER.

Author: Andy N Li

Professor Statement

The students in the sophomore seminar Race and Remembering (Fall 2014) engaged with conversations in Ethnic Studies, American Studies, History, and the Public Humanities. Students grappled with the  relationship between historical narratives, memory, and social relations of power. Together the class studied ongoing local and transnational struggles to reckon with the violent histories of slavery, empire, colonialism, nationalism, and democracy in the United States and abroad.

This digital exhibit is not a comprehensive look at the history of race at Brown, but rather an invitation for future research and dialogues about Brown’s past and the future of the university. Amidst celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Brown University, and inspired by key contributions by the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, students chose to create a collaborative reflection on the history of race at Brown. The group considered the stakes of remembering, forgetting, memorializing, and reckoning with histories of race on campus. They asked, how the university interacts with Providence communities, how student protests shape Brown, and how controversial racial legacies on campus are remembered or forgotten. They consulted with university archivists and mined school collections to locate key documents that will be of value to educators, researchers, students, and alumni. They took on the difficult task of making key editorial choices for narrating and presenting histories for a broader audience. The Brown University community should celebrate these student efforts. Please join these students in continuing this important dialogue.

Monica Muñoz Martinez

Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies

Department of American Studies

Brown University

Feedback

Please provide us with any comments, questions, or concerns regarding the Race and Remembering digital exhibit in the space below:

Additional Readings

Below is a list of suggested readings that will give further insights on the narrative of Columbus Day at Brown, the workings of public memorialization, and representations of Native American narratives:

“‘Earliest America’ Initiative Rethinks History” by Kerri Colfer, Brown Daily Herald, October 14, 2014.

“Columbus Change Spurs Response” by Lauren Fedor, Brown Daily Herald, April 14, 2009.

Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America by Erika Doss, 2010.

Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby, 2012.

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1995.

Steering Committee Report on Slavery and Justice at Brown University.

Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West by Ned Blackhawk, 2008.

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Afterword

As Brown reflects on its 250th anniversary the university represents itself as a vanguard of the Ivy League. Despite this reputation as a liberal institution, the complicated histories of race at Brown are silenced in this dominant narrative.

Students in this sophomore seminar take up the charge of addressing critical questions of identity, equity, and justice. This exhibit seeks to critically remember the past 250 years of Brown University and reimagine its future. To do this the University must be willing to challenge the power and dominance of popular memory at Brown. The continued effort to silence minority narratives, and our refusal to be silenced, are critical components Brown’s history, without which the story of Brown’s 250 years is incomplete. This exhibit aims to provide a stepping-stone for fully remembering histories at Brown. Though it is hardly a complete history of race at Brown, we hope it can illuminate forgotten narratives at this institution in order to raise critical consciousness about race at Brown.

Works Cited

Colfer, Kerri. “‘Earliest America’ Initiative Rethinks History.” Brown Daily Herald, October 14, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/10/14/earliest-america-initiative-rethinks- history/.

Doss, Erika. Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010.

“Fall Weekend – Brown University Renames Columbus Day.” Fox News video, 4:41. May 2, 2011. http://video.foxnews.com/v/3928547/fall-weekend/#sp=show-clips.

Fedor, Lauren. “Columbus Change Spurs Response.” Brown Daily Herald, April 14, 2009. Accessed November 3, 2014. http://www.browndailyherald.com/2009/04/14/columbus-change-spurs-response/.

Koyama, Reiko. “Columbus Day Cover Letter.” Cover letter, Brown University, 2008.

Koyama, Reiko. “Speak-Out Against Columbus Day.” Program flyer, Brown University, 2008.

Leonard, Karen, and Amy Umstadter. “Columbus Day Proposal.” Staff Advisory Committee proposal to President Ruth Simmons, Brown University, 2009.

Lord, Wanda Jean. “Indigenous Community Perspective Speech.” Program speech, Brown University, 2008.

“Motion to Change the Academic Calendar.” Faculty Executive Committee final motion to Brown administration, Brown University, 2009.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon, 1995.

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Reiko’s Speech

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One of the leaders of the 2008 rally, Reiko Koyama ’11, gave a speech introducing her idea to organize the rally, explaining the historical inaccuracy and injustice of celebrating Columbus Day. She states, “We as Americans all have the right to an accurately portrayed history that encompasses all perspectives.”[1] At the rally, speeches such as Koyama’s marked the opening of a space for dialogue at Brown to provide retribution for Native peoples silenced by Columbus Day.

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[1] Reiko Koyama, “Reiko’s Columbus Day Speech” (program speech notes, Brown University, 2008).

Fox News Video

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Fox News segment on “Fall Weekend” (click here for video)

In May 2011, Fox News Anchorwoman Megyn Kelly portrayed Brown’s decision for “Fall Weekend” as an affront to American history, equating the protests against celebrating Columbus to a rejection of all historical events that established the United States.[1] When national news ridicules activism as an insult to a dominant narrative like the myth of a heroic Columbus, it limits the power of activism to reconcile the pain caused by a memorial’s histories of violence. The dominant narrative’s broad presence in media maintains a space for the public to be ignorant of these histories.

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[1] “Fall Weekend – Brown University Renames Columbus Day,” Fox News video, 4:41, May 2, 2011, http://video.foxnews.com/v/3928547/fall-weekend/#sp=show-clips.

SAC Letter

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In 2008, the Staff Advisory Committee (SAC) met with students and staff to discuss the elimination of Columbus Day from Brown’s academic calendar. In this letter to President Simmons, SAC agreed to remove Columbus Day. However, they stated that changing the vacation date could bring up work concerns such as transportation and childcare conflicts, as many Rhode Island employers observe the vacation time.[1]  What does it mean to keep the vacation date for the sake of work concerns? Is this still a silent acknowledgment of Columbus Day?

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[1] Leonard and Umstadter, “Columbus Day Proposal.”

Columbus Day at Brown: The Holiday as Memorial

“…Native American people, have always occupied the lands of the United States farther back than any history can record or dispute. Indigenous in fact means to be ‘beget’ of a certain land or place – to have always been there, to belong to a place. You cannot logically ‘discover’ a land that already fully belonged to someone else.”

Founder of Honoring Our Own Power, Wanda Jean Lord, October 7, 2008 rally at Brown University

On October 7, 2008, Brown University students and community leaders in Native American activism rallied against Brown’s observance of Columbus Day.[1] They marched through campus to challenge the celebration of Christopher Columbus, a man who enforced genocide and slavery on indigenous peoples of the Americas. At the rally, Reiko Koyama ‘11 proclaimed that “Continuing to celebrate … a conqueror driven with greed, cruelty, and self-righteousness, over 500 years later is unacceptable. Continuing the practice at a progressive, socially-conscious institution such as Brown … is reprehensible.”[2]

In April 2009, the University agreed to eliminate the holiday from the academic calendar.[3] Many students approved the decision, but a national debate arose when news sources ridiculed this activism as a disgrace to American history. Thus, even after the elimination of the holiday, full retribution for the pain caused by Columbus Day at Brown has yet to be attained.

In October 2014, the John Carter Brown Library started a lecture series called “The Earliest Americas: A New Initiative in Indigenous Studies.”[4] The initiative launched with a lecture by historian Ned Blackhawk, who encouraged the public to “expos[e] limitations in existing narratives” by having continuous conversations to understand the pain inflicted upon Native peoples by celebrations of Columbus Day. “Earliest Americas” is a significant example of a space for these conversations. But as Blackhawk states, whatever the effort to reconcile the narratives silenced by Brown’s histories of violence, that effort must continue on.

“We are now at a point in our nation’s history where we are really, for the first time, able to … rediscover America.”

Historian, Ned Blackhawk, October 2014 Lecture at John Carter Brown Library

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[1] Reiko Koyama, “Speak-Out Against Columbus Day” (program flyer, Brown University, 2008).

[2] Reiko Koyama, “Reiko’s Columbus Day Speech” (program speech notes, Brown University, 2008).

[3] Lauren Fedor, “Columbus Change Spurs Response,” Brown Daily Herald, April 14, 2009, accessed November 3, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2009/04/14/columbus-change-spurs-response/.

[4] Kerri Colfer, “‘Earliest America’ Initiative Rethinks History,” Brown Daily Herald, October 14, 2014, accessed November 29, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/10/14/earliest-america-initiative-rethinks-history/.