Diversity and Inclusion Week 2021: Moments in History
Diversity and Inclusion Week (March 1 - 7) is dedicated to raising awareness about the rich variety of backgrounds experiences on campus and the many ways we can foster inclusion by learning from one another and having conversations, contemplating the critical role of diversity on this campus, and celebrating one another. This spring our theme for the week is Diversity & Inclusion: Conversation, Contemplation, Celebration.
Diversity & Inclusion: Moments in History
One of our D&I week traditions has been to post brief historical snippets about SLU and the North Country during this week. This year we continue that tradition. Here’s our first snippet of the week:
Many of you know that Ogdensburg was an important waystation on the Underground Railroad. I recently learned about a fascinating incident that took place in 1837. It involved a postman, an escaped slave, and a letter.
A fugitive from a slave state (his name was never identified) was making his way toward Canada. With about 30 miles left to go, he stopped in Ogdensburg to earn a little money before embarking on the final leg of his journey, and found work chopping wood for the postman. But just a few days into his stay, the mail stage came in carrying a wanted poster addressed to the postman containing a detailed description of the fugitive. The postman confronted him. The fugitive told his story, pleading with the postman not to turn him in. Here’s a quote from the 1837 article:
The postmaster melted down and was deeply affected...[he] then showed the fugitive a short route of 15 miles, to the St. Lawrence, by which he could cross into Canada, and be safe; and gave him a loaf of bread and his blessing; and as the sun went down, the fugitive crossed the St. Lawrence, and placed his foot on Canada's soil, beneath the protection of British law, and was a happy man.
Special thanks to Carol Smith for sharing this story with me!
Source: North Country Underground Railroad Historical Society (https://northcountryundergroundrailroad.com/st-lawrence-county.php)
In today’s D&I Week Historical Snippet, we’d like to share information about an essential cultural resource, the Akwesasne Freedom School, which has been preserving Mohawk language and culture since 1979.
The Mohawk are among the first nations to inhabit the area we now know as New York. Beginning in the 1600s, however, European settlers committed genocidal acts that all but exterminated native peoples across North America. Those who were not killed outright often experienced “ethnocide,” or cultural genocide, by which people in positions of power forced Native American children to assimilate European culture and abandon their own indigenous culture.
The Mohawk are among many Native American peoples to experience this. Children were forcibly removed from their families and communities to attend boarding schools run by priests and missionaries. Decades of residential boarding schools forbidding students to speak their native language, removed from home communities for most of the year, dealt a blow to Mohawk communities and culture. The terrible impact that removing children from families and teaching them that their native language and culture are inferior has lasted for generations.
The Akwesasne Freedom School works to restore Mohawk culture, language, and community. Founded in 1979, the AFS aims to revive Mohawk language and culture by immersion education. Children are invited to start attending at the age of 1 year, which allows them to start developing language skills as early as possible. The focus is on developing conversational skills. They work with an elder to develop skills that even their parents often lack. Levels are determined by language ability, not by age. 1940 SLU graduate Ernest Kaientaronkwen Benedict,” a widely respected Mohawk elder, chief of the Mohawk Council, and lifelong resident of Akwesasne, led many SLU students to tutor at Akwesasne. Benedict received SLU’s Sol Feinstone Humanitarian Award in 1984, which comes with a monetary award of @ $2000. Benedict donated the proceeds to support the Akwesasne Freedom School.
For more information visit this website, which also has a 13-minute PBS video featuring the AFS. Kalliopeia Foundation, Akwesasne Freedom School (https://kalliopeia.org/grantee-partner/akwesasne-freedom-school)
Special thanks to Mel Schrems, Brenda Papineau, and Victoria Lederer for helping fact-check!
This semester, the Office for Diversity & Inclusion is fortunate to have a wonderful intern, Diamond McAllister (’22). She’s focusing her research on some fascinating materials that we recently discovered in the University Archives. Librarian Paul Doty unearthed and shared with us a document drafted in 1968 that doesn’t bear a title but has been referred to in the years immediately following its dissemination as The Manifesto. This document was written by Black students in the shadow of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Signed by all the Black students enrolled at SLU, it calls for the following changes:
- Increased efforts to admit more black students, using the help of current black students
- More scholarship funds for black students
- Black content courses
- Efforts to hire black faculty
- Efforts to invite black speakers and performers to campus regularly
As you can see, after more than 50 years we still have a lot of work to do.
With help from University Librarians Paul Haggett and Paul Doty (whom we affectionately refer to as “the Pauls”), Diamond has been poring over records from The Hill News (which has been an incredibly rich resource) as well as notes from various university committees and reports in order to learn more about the context of The Manifesto, the activism of those remarkable students, and the changes that resulted from the letter and the students’ collaboration with SLU in the aftermath. Diamond has located some of the signatories and is planning oral history interviews with them. Stay tuned for updates,