University of Dundee reports on slavery links and commits to ‘decolonization’
The University of Dundee has published a report into the institution’s historical links with transatlantic slavery.
The study acknowledges that whilst the university’s founders played a leading role in widening access to education by promoting the education of students of both sexes, Mary Ann Baxter and her family’s fortune was derived indirectly from slavery.
The Founders Project Final Report, authored by Dr Cassandra Gooptar from the university of Dundee, is the culmination of three months of research designed to deepen understanding of Dundee’s role in Britain’s imperial past.
The University of Dundee has its roots in the University College Dundee, which was founded in 1881 with the donation of £140,000 from Mary Ann Baxter and her cousin, John Boyd Baxter. The report’s conclusion is that while the Baxters did not trade in or own slaves themselves, they were indirectly linked with slavery through the production and export of manufactured goods to transatlantic markets, and particularly clothing worn by enslaved people.
Principal and vice-chancellor Professor Iain Gillespie said: “This report offers an important opportunity to acknowledge an underexposed part of our history, and to recognise that we must all play a part in developing our collective memory.
“Although the university never owned enslaved people or traded in the goods they produced, it is now clear we received significant financial support from people whose wealth came indirectly from slavery. These histories have deep legacies and impact contemporary realities on campus and in wider society.
“It’s important that we each play a part in addressing these issues. Collective engagement will allow us to do what we do best - educate ourselves, share the truth in all its complexity, and move forward together.”
Nyasha Mutembwa, president of Dundee University Students’ Association, said: “Being someone that has been at this university since 2017 and now being in the position of the first black female president of the Students’ Association, it has been quite the journey to learn about this city’s history and people.
“As president of the African Caribbean Society in 2020, I had the pleasure of connecting with Cassandra and learning more about this project. I think this is a stepping stone for our university community to address historical issues and see how best to implement change in the world that we now live in.
“Being one of the many black students at this university I can only hope this new chapter allows us to reflect, educate and change for the better.”
Earlier this year the university signed a partnership commitment with universities in Malawi. The Blantyre Declaration, part of the university’s Africa Initiative, commits the university of Dundee to work with signatories to build more productive, sustainable and equitable long-term relationships that deliver social purpose, responding to the needs and opportunities identified through working with local communities.
Next month the university will unveil plans for an Africa lecture series, continuing its commitment to intellectual reparations, partnership and mutual exchange.
The programme will be designed to bring African leaders to Dundee to share in conversations and promote understanding. Professor Sosten Chiotha, Regional Director of LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa (Leadership for Environment and Development) and one of Malawi’s first Vision 2063 champions, will deliver the first lecture in the series.
The hybrid event will be free and open to audiences in Scotland and Africa, continuing the university’s commitment to public engagement, and helping to build a culture of openness to learning from others.
The university has also agreed a series of actions in response to the report’s recommendations including:
- Developing an inclusive curriculum – to ensure teaching beyond the Western canon and including “decolonization” where required
- Explore opportunities for further focused archival research
- Hosting a seminar early in 2023 to discuss memorialisation and the built environment
- Exploring opportunities to support BAME businesses in the city through the university’s Centre for Entrepreneurship
- Targeted engagement with African and Caribbean students and staff to discuss student experience on campus
- Public engagement activities that develop equitable relationships with our local community and beyond.
The principal will host an event next week at which there will be presentations, from speakers and academics including Dr Cassandra Gooptar and Professor Graham Fagan, and the university community will begin discussions about developing the action plan to move Dundee into a new era.
Professor Gillespie continued: “These actions build on work already underway, and I hope they provide a sense of determination and momentum to our commitment to equity and inclusion. I look forward to welcoming as many voices as possible into a conversation about how we can recognise and learn from our history.”