Sylviane Greensword knows that the history of slavery is closely tied to Native American history and seeks to intentionally incorporate the connection into her work.
Greensword is a member of the Race and Reconciliation Initiative at Texas Christian University, and by studying the school’s ties to slavery and the Confederacy, he also learned how Native Americans were affected.
Members of the Native American and Indigenous Peoples Initiative were honored with a Plume Award from the Race and Reconciliation Initiative in March for their work in shaping ways to support, respect and incorporate Native Americans on campus.
The committee plans to expand from research on African Americans to include Indigenous and Latino populations as well, said Amiso George, chair of the Race and Reconciliation Initiative.
“We hope to provide a comprehensive picture of all the shades of purple that have contributed and still contribute to making TCU what it is today,” said George.
In fall 2022, according to the latest data available from TCU, only 0.2 percent of students were American Indian/Alaska Native. The native population at TCU has declined in recent years.
The Race and Reconciliation Initiative presented the award at its annual Reconciliation Day, which is also where the committee presents its latest findings.
The ceremony included members of the Wichita and affiliated tribes, whose ancestral home is where the TCU campus is located.
What is the Race and Reconciliation Initiative?
The Race and Reconciliation initiative launched in August 2020 at TCU and tasked members with seeking and speaking the truth about the university’s ties to slavery and the Confederacy, said Karen Steele, an English professor and founding member.
Part of what prompted the university to start the initiative was outcry from students and the country over the death of George Floyd, Steele said.
“One of the first things the Race and Reconciliation Initiative really had to figure out is, what is our institutional relationship to slavery? Do any of our founders have a relationship with slaves? Were they slavers? Steel said. “Even though we were founded in 1873, after the Emancipation, we suspected there might be stories we needed to uncover.”
They found stories they thought needed to be told.
Greensword, a postdoctoral fellow, said through research the initiative found ties to the Confederacy among the family that founded the school.
Addison and Randolph Clark, the school’s founders, both joined the Confederacy and their father Joseph was a slave owner, Greensword said.
From their research, the initiative makes recommendations to the TCU Board of Regents and finds ways to follow up on the research. One example Steele gave was an audit of all statues and buildings named after people on campus.
“It’s no surprise that it’s a group of white men,” Steele said. “However, there are some variations, but really not many. Our library’s namesake benefactress is a white woman, but it’s mostly white men.”
The athletic department was inspired by the committee’s work, Steele said, and the department built a statue honoring James Cash, the first black student athlete at TCU and the first black basketball player in the Southwest Conference.
The Race and Reconciliation Initiative has also encouraged the administration to look at who the campus does business with and seek to diversify by working with Black or Indigenous-owned businesses of color.
But the initiative also seeks to find healing. In her search for her, Greensword said she was able to find enslaved people who worked on campus and their descendants. TCU brought the descendants to the school last year.
“It was a chance to remember bringing them to campus, telling them the story of their ancestors, setting them foot on a campus where just a few decades ago they couldn’t even legally study here or even set foot here, unless whether they were members of the cleaning crew or the cafeteria,” Greensword said. “We were able to tell them the story of TCU and it actually generated an interest for some of them to participate in TCU.”
Hopes for the future
George hopes the campus community will learn the full story of TCU — warts and all.
“We would like to see this learning done formally, incorporated into coursework and informally, through ongoing presentations and campus tours that showcase the many ways our campus is welcoming to all,” she said. “By holding up our history as a mirror, we hope that other institutions can learn from what we have done and look forward to making their institution a place where all are welcomed and celebrated.”
He knows the change won’t happen overnight, but he believes the campus has come a long way even since the initiative’s first year.
“First there’s the acknowledgment of the past, then come the intentional decisions about how to turn the lessons into something positive,” she said. “We’re already seeing these changes on our campus and expect to see more as time goes on.”
Kristen Barton is an educational reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at [email protected]. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial backers. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.