Institutional Sample and Data Collection

Our research project collects data on university engagement in reparative actions for their respective histories of slavery between 2000 and the end of 2020. To develop our sample of U.S. higher education institutions that are either known to or very likely to have some ties to slavery, we use colleges and universities that were in operation before the Civil War, as identified in Colin Burke’s (1982) and Donald Tewksbury’s (1932) historical texts. There is significant overlap between both lists, and if an institution appeared in either Tewksbury’s “List of Permanent Colleges and Universities Founded Before the Civil War Arranged in Order of their Founding” or Burke’s list of “Liberal Arts Colleges in Operation 1800-1860,” we included them in our sample.

For this study, we focused on institutions that were legally empowered to offer bachelor’s degrees before the Civil War as listed within these texts. Thus, many existing higher education institutions today that were founded before the Civil War but were not legally empowered to offer degrees before the Civil War (i.e., Athens State University, University of Utah, Simpson College, etc.) are not included in this study. We left out separate theological, medical, law, and normal schools. Although there are institutions that were founded after the Civil War that have known ties to slavery (e.g., Clemson University, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University), we did not include institutions founded after the Civil War because there is no complete list of colleges and universities founded after the Civil War with known ties to slavery. After deleting institutions that were no longer open by the end of 2020, the sample from Burke’s and Tewksbury’s lists yielded 190 institutions located within 33 states and the District of Columbia.

For each institution in the sample, two members of the research team independently investigated the entire university website searching for information related to the institution’s slavery history to avoid missing relevant content. The following search terms were used- the institution’s name along with: slavery report, slavery history, slavery project, apology, slavery committee, slavery recommendations, memorialization, reconciliation, and abolitionist history. Since institutions update websites at different times, we conducted this investigation in Spring of 2021 and Summer/Fall of 2022 to ensure we had given ample time for institutions to update their web content.

Defining University Engagement in Reparation

For the purpose of our study, if an institution’s actions and/or recommendations are not in direct relation* to its history of slavery, we did not count them as a university reparation for slavery. Additionally, we focused on those actions and recommendations from the institution’s upper-level administration rather than actions of individual faculty members. We use the year that universities began to “engage” in specific reparations as opposed to “completion” because in many cases the time between announcement and completion took several years (i.e., creation of memorials, research) through a deliberate process, or in some cases, institutions engaged in the same type of reparation (memorialization/commemorative actions) at different time periods.

*Ok if partially motivated by slavery history (some included institution’s role in additional forms of oppression/system racism or addressing racism in the same documents as motivation for actions)

Different Types of Reparations

There are a broad number of measures that have been used in different contexts as reparations, such as:

  1. Apologies
  2. Truth commissions and related endeavors to investigate and establish a record of the historical facts
  3. Commemorative actions and edifices
  4. Payments to individual survivors of the wrongs in question
  5. Attempts to improve the well-being of communities harmed by past acts
  6. Efforts to prevent repetition of the acts in question and to overcome so-called cultures of impunity

In addition to these six general types, some universities have engaged in additional types of reparations, such as:

  1. 7. Expanding opportunities at the institution for those disadvantaged by the legacies of slavery (Brown University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, 2006)
  2. 8. Justice in Educational Practice (Furman University Task Force on Slavery and Justice, 2018)

Below are the categories we used to examine the higher education reparations movement and how we conceptualized them:

Important Notes on Data Completeness and Interpretation

We do not claim to have identified all forms of reparations for institutions in our data collection sample. Our findings are the result of gathering and analyzing data from thousands of institutional webpages and pages from documents collected from institutional websites. However, some institutions may not have included information on their websites about their reparative actions. Given this possible missing data, our data should be interpreted as “what Pre-Civil War colleges and universities have said they are engaging in.”

We also do not claim to have identified all institutions engaging in reparations, as we solely focused on those identified in Burke’s and Tewksbury’s lists as Pre-Civil War colleges and universities (including UM, College Park). Indeed, institutions founded after the Civil War may also have ties to slavery (e.g., Clemson University, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University), but were not included in this study given that there is no complete list of colleges founded after the Civil War that have ties to slavery.

Additionally, these findings are not intended to have institutions actions reduced to simply “checking the box” of each category. Reparative actions should be long-term and undergo deliberative, community, and comprehensive processes if they are to be meaningful and effective. These findings also do not suggest that just because an institution engaged in a particular type of reparation, that they are “done” in that category or what they have done is enough. It is critical to be mindful that every institution is starting out at a different place and have different histories to address. Rather, these findings are to initiate a conversation and a deeper understanding of the broader university reparations movement to help universities engaging in reparative actions think about more comprehensive actions.



  • 1 “In the endeavor to make the list definitive as well as accurate, it was necessary to set up at the outset a number of definitions which would serve as guiding principles in the selection of materials. A ‘college’ has been defined for the purposes of the list as an institution of higher education which is legally empowered to confer degrees in the liberal arts. Institutions known as universities, colleges, seminaries, or institutes, if granted the right to confer degrees, have been included in the list. Higher institutions of a technical or professional character are not included in the list, unless they were also granted the right to confer degrees in the liberal arts. The date of ‘founding’ of a college has been defined as the date on which the legal right to confer degrees was granted to the institution either by implication or by explicit reference (p. 30).”
  • 2 “Instead of using charters as an unambiguous indicator of foundings, contemporary and historical sources likely to mention operating colleges were searched to identify colleges active in the period between 1800 and the outbreak of the Civil War. Post Office directories, atlases, national, state and local almanacs and registers, denominational publications, collections of college catalogs, and histories of the states and education within them were surveyed for any mention of a college in operation. Once a mention was noted, attempts were made to verify that the male or coeducational institution actually taught students in an educational track leading to a college degree and that contemporaries regarded the institution as a college (p. 14).”