Louis Ashworth

An open letter calling on the University’s 31 constituent colleges to commit to the University’s inquiry into its historic ties to the slave trade has as of this article’s publication garnered 154 signatures since its circulation on Tuesday afternoon.

The inquiry, launched on Tuesday morning, will evaluate the ways in which the central University benefitted from and contributed to the Atlantic slave trade. This will include a consideration of financial and material gifts and bequests, as well as the manner in which scholarship at the University legitimised racist thought which purported to validate slavery.

It will not, however, examine the ties of the individual colleges which comprise the University to the slave trade.

The open letter calls on the colleges to commit to the inquiry, which would, it notes, ‘at minimum’ involve ‘rigorous and transparent research into connections to slavery, formal acknowledgement and memorialization of benefits derived from slavery, and a reparative justice agenda’.

Since the inquiry’s announcement, the lack of college involvement has come under scrutiny.

Multiple Cambridge academics have expressed their concern regarding this fact on social media, highlighting both the substantial autonomy and wealth held by the University’s constituent colleges.

What does the open letter request?

Open all archives to LSI, its Advisory Group, postdoctoral researchers, and affiliated researchers – including, but not limited to, sources related to endowments and to scholarship that might have ‘reinforced and validated race-based thinking’

Encourage its students, staff, Fellows, and affiliated researchers to participate in and support the work of LSI

Contribute to reparative justice initiatives

Engage the wider community in Cambridge and beyond with the questions raised by the LSI

Join the Universities Studying Slavery initiative

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In an official statement following the launch of the inquiry, CUSU’s BME campaign noted that they believe it is “crucial for colleges to be actively involved in the work of the inquiry.”

“Given that many of the University’s ties with slavery likely implicate colleges, it is important that they do not exercise their autonomy in ways that obscure records and histories.”

Jake Richards, a phd student who authored the open letter, commented that the Inquiry needed “commitment from all” the colleges to be “effective”, adding that “any resulting initiatives to improve life at the University [...] will require College engagement to be effectively implemented”.

“The Colleges should want to be part of the current dynamic conversation regarding possible initiatives, a conversation that many student groups in Cambridge and beyond have been having for quite some time now.”


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