Rice to launch task force on its segregationist history

HOUSTON (AP) — Rice University will launch a task force to explore its segregationist history with the aim of sparking dialogue and further documenting its past.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the task force, which was announced in a June 4 memo to the university community, will launch in the fall.

"Given our aspirations as a university, which is to be the best engine of opportunity to all segments of society, it's critical that we understand our history and the history of our country and the obstacles people still face to achieving full equality," Rice President David W. Leebron told the newspaper.

The school was founded by William Marsh Rice, a businessman and a slave owner. Its 1891 charter said it was open only to whites. Black undergraduates weren't admitted until 1965. Yearbooks show the school briefly had a student chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and had social gatherings with blackface at least until the 1980s.

The task force will include faculty members, students, staff and alumni, Leebron said.

Rice historian Melissa Kean said it's important to consider the context and time period when exploring the past. "We can't just condemn it," she said. "We must condemn it, but we must strive to make sense of it."

Most private universities in the South had similar stances on segregation, Kean says, but Rice's charter, specific in its stance on segregation, was unique in that it was enforced after the Civil War, when most other institutions with pre-war roots were grappling with a new climate.

Donald Bowers, a 1991 Rice graduate who is black, hopes to be on the task force. "I think it's coming at a time that we as a university have digested quite a bit already, and we're recognizing who we've been, who we are and who we want to be," Bowers said.


Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com