Rice University Forms Task Force to Examine Its History Regarding Race

Many of the nation’s leading universities including Brown, the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, and the College of William and Mary, have conducted wide-ranging research on their historical ties to slavery. Rice University in Houston, Texas, was founded nearly a half century after slavery was abolished, but the university is mounting an effort to examine its past history regarding African Americans.

William Marsh Rice was an oil and cotton tycoon, who when he died was said to be the richest man in Texas. He left the bulk of his estate to establish the Rice Institute for Literature. His will stipulated that only White students were allowed to enroll. In the early 1960s, the trustees went to court to try to overturn the stipulation in Rice’s will that admissions be restricted to Whites. Some alumni sought to keep the Whites-only stipulation in effect but the university prevailed. The first Black graduate student was admitted in 1965 and the first Black undergraduate matriculated in 1966.

In a recent letter to the campus community, David W. Leebron, president of Rice University, announced a new effort to examine the university’s history. In referring to slavery, he stated that “Rice has some historical connections to that terrible part of American history and the segregation and racial disparities that resulted directly from it.”

The new Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice will “develop and participate in the implementation of a plan for discovering, documenting, acknowledging, and disseminating Rice’s past with respect to slavery, segregation, and racial injustice, as well as an understanding of how that history may continue to inform and shape the present state of the university.”

The task force has also been charged with developing “campus wide programming to support frank and honest discussion of Rice’s entanglement with slavery, segregation, and racial injustice” and to “identify suggestions for Rice’s future for our students, our faculty and staff, and our relationship with our home community of Houston that will more fully realize our aspirations for a diverse and inclusive university.”

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