Princeton Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees sent shockwaves when it recently annouced it unanimously endorsed the implementation of a multi-year action plan to repent for its ties to slavery totalling $27 million. However, Black students at the school say more should be done.
According to Princeton, the series of new initiatives is a direct response to a report the Seminary published in October 2018 after conducting a two-year historical audit. The Ivy League was founded in 1746 and the university’s first nine presidents all owned enslaved Africans; as slaves were sold on the campus in 1766 and they lived at the President’s House until at least 1822.
State legislature passed gradual abolition in 1804 becoming the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery completely. However, slavery did not truly end in the state until the passage of the Thriteenth Amendment in 1865.
“The report was an act of confession,” said John White, dean of students and vice president of student relations. “These responses are intended as acts of repentance that will lead to lasting impact within our community. This is the beginning of the process of repair that will be ongoing.”
With an immediate rollout of the plan and continuation through 2024, the Seminary intends to make meaningful and lasting change with the more than 20 approved initiatives, including offering 30 new scholarships for students who are descendants of slaves or from underrepresented groups, designating five doctoral fellowships for students who are descendants of slaves or from underrepresented groups, enhancing community partnerships, and supporting historically disenfranchised communities in and around Princeton.
“The Seminary’s ties to slavery are a part of our story. It is important to acknowledge that our founders were entangled with slavery and could not envision a fully integrated society,” said Princeton Seminary President M. Craig Barnes. “We are committed to telling the truth. We did not want to shy away from the uncomfortable part of our history and the difficult conversations that revealing the truth would produce.”
However, Black students at the Seminary say that $27 million is not enough and are asking for more. In April, the school’s Association of Black Seminarians started a petition garnering nearly 700 signatures asking the school to set aside money.
The students’ demands included a reported 15% of the Seminary’s endowment for reparations and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges, Universities and seminaries with Presbyterian affiliations.
“I feel it is a start, but not what we asked for,” ABS President Nicholas Young said to Princeton’s student newspaper. “I cannot say that, as an institution, that the Seminary has failed to try to repent. All I can say is that I want it to try harder.”