The University of Glasgow has made a historic step to atone for benefiting from the transatlantic slave trade. The Scottish university signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with The University of the West Indies (UWI) in which it committed £20 million ($24 million) as “reparative justice.”
The money will establish the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research, which will have bases in Glasgow and the West Indies. The center will host events, fund research work, coordinate academic collaborations, and help raise awareness about the history of slavery and how it impacted different countries.
“This is a historic occasion for both the University of Glasgow and The University of the West Indies,” Dr. David Duncan, chief operating officer and University Secretary, said in a statement. Duncan signed the MOU on behalf of the University of Glasgow at a ceremony held at The UWI’s Mona campus in Kingston, Jamaica on July 31.
Duncan continued: “When we commissioned our year-long study into the links the University of Glasgow had with historic slavery we were conscious both of the proud part that Glasgow played in the abolitionist movement, and an awareness that we would have benefitted, albeit indirectly from that appalling and heinous trade.”
The University of Glasgow committed to raising and spending £20 million over the next twenty years to run the center, provide scholarships, fund research, and support public engagement and other initiatives. The university first made this commitment when it released its report on how it benefited from the slave trade.
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, who co-signed the MOU as The UWI’s vice chancellor, said he “was proud of the decision of the University of Glasgow to take this bold, moral, historic step in recognizing the slavery aspect of its past and to rise as an advocate of reparatory justice, and an example of 21st century university enlightenment.”
The UWI did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment.
The historic agreement follows a two-year study that found the University of Glasgow directly benefited from the slave trade in Africa and the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries. The September 2018 report revealed the university made nearly £200 million ($241 million) during the slave trade, when adjusted to current currency value.
Following the report’s release, Scotland’s first Black professor Sir Geoff Palmer told The Guardian that he appreciated the University of Glasgow’s efforts and called on other institutions to follow suit.
“We can have all the equality laws and anti-racism legislation we like, but if no other institutions, firms, or organizations, which also benefited from slavery declare this and seek to make amends then it’s all meaningless,” Palmer said.
He continued: “If they all were to follow the example of Glasgow University then that would be real race relations… If what Glasgow University is doing in reaching out to these communities as a means of reparation were to be replicated, it would make a real difference.”
Universities across the Atlantic have begun grappling with how to address the issue of reparations. While some institutions have acknowledged to benefiting from the slave trade, few have established ways to make amends.
In 2014, then-junior Matthew Quallen at Georgetown University exposed the university’s history with slavery in a column in the student newspaper The Hoya. Jesuits who ran the institution sold 272 enslaved people in 1838 in order to save Georgetown University from financial ruin. The sale, which raised the equivalent of $3.3 million in today’s money, was organized by the school’s president, a Jesuit priest named Thomas Mulledy.
Two years later, Georgetown issued a formal apology for its role in slavery and renamed two campus buildings to acknowledge those enslaved people. The university also agreed to give admissions preference to descendants of the 272 enslaved people, according to Politico.
In April, more than two-thirds of students at Georgetown voted to endorse a semesterly fee that would benefit the descendants of the enslaved people who the university sold. The $27.20 per semester fee would be allocated to support education and health care programs in Louisiana and Maryland, where many of the 4,000 known descendants of the “GU272” now live.
The university has not committed to enacting the semesterly fee.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.