Sep 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Cambridge joins elite universities grappling with ties to slavery

Aerial view of King's College, part of Cambridge University on May 23, 2007

Aerial view of King's College, part of Cambridge University. on May 23, 2007. Photo: David Goddard/Getty Images

The University of Cambridge said Thursday that it received "significant financial benefits" from the institution of slavery.

Why it matters: Cambridge's acknowledgment comes as a number of universities in the U.S. are examining their ties to slavery — and grappling with how best to address their pasts.

Driving the news: Cambridge in a report released Thursday said that while it did not find evidence of the university directly owning plantations or slaves, individuals connected to the university did own plantations and were "deeply involved ... in establishing the institutions of slavery."

  • The report also found that the university received donations from individuals connected to slavery and the slave trade.
  • "Such financial involvement both helped to facilitate the slave trade and brought very significant financial benefits to Cambridge," the Legacies of Enslavement report said.
  • The university vowed to increase scholarships for Black students, engage with Black staff and "enhance research partnerships in West Africa and the Caribbean."

The big picture: A number of U.S. universities, including Harvard University, have released similar findings in recent years.

  • Harvard, for instance, earlier this year released a report that found that the university, faculty staff and leaders enslaved more than 70 individuals during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Among the recommendations outlined in Harvard's report, the committee recommended working to improve educational opportunities for the descendants of Black and Native American enslaved people.

What they're saying: "It is not in our gift to right historic wrongs, but we can begin by acknowledging them," Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope said of the report.

  • "Having unearthed our university’s links to an appalling history of abuse, the report encourages us to work even harder to address current inequalities – particularly those related to the experiences of Black communities," Toope said.

Go deeper... Universities with ties to slavery lead the charge for reparations

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