Good morning. Today is a pivotal moment
in Furman’s history. It’s the culmination of months and months of thoughtful work
and reflection by the Furman community including students, faculty, staff, alumni.
The Task Force on Slavery and Justice appointed by Provost George Shields and
the Special Committee on Slavery and Justice appointed this fall a board
committee appointed this fall by board chair Alec Taylor. At this time I’d like
to ask the trustees who served on the special committee if you would please
stand and be recognized. And also I’d like to recognize any members of the the
Task Force on Slavery and Justice who could be with us today. Would you please
stand and be recognized? I’m joined today by Dr. Baxter Wynn,
trustee and chair of the Board’s Special Committee on Slavery and Justice and
Deborah Allen, a member of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice and beginning in
July, Director of Furman Center for Inclusive Communities. Each of us will
make brief remarks and then take questions from our gathered campus
community and then we’ll be happy to speak to the media following this event.
Before Dr. Wynn talks about the Board’s decisions related to the recommendations
of the special committee I want to emphasize a few important points. This
work and our resulting actions represent our commitment to telling the complete
story of Furman’s history. To be true champions for an inclusive future in
which everyone feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to
succeed. Our work these past months reflects our reckoning with a difficult
past. Many universities across the country have had or are having these
conversations. Conversations such as these raise many emotions. Sometimes
campuses are able to weather the proverbial storms that arise and emerge
much stronger communities. Other times, universities become more
fractured. Well, we still have more to do. I’m encouraged that we have gone about
this work with humility, a listening ear, and the overarching goal to emerge a
stronger community than when we began. I cannot fully express my gratitude and
appreciation for the Task Force and the Special Committee and the hard work and
outstanding dedication they showed to getting this right.
I know board chair Alec Taylor shares these sentiments. He sends his regrets
that he’s not able to be with us this morning. Finally, I want the entire Furman
community to know how seriously the board took these decisions. It was an
educational if not transformative experience for
all, especially the Special Committee. Several trustees shared personal stories
of their experiences students at Furman that profoundly affected them, some good
some not so good. Those testimonies and the substantial work of the Special
Committee convinced our trustees to unanimously support the special
committees recommendations that you will now hear from trustee Wynn. (applause) Thank You, President Davis, and good friend Elizabeth, all the same. And thank you for
being here. The fact that there’s a full house here really indicates that you
understand that this is very an important conversation that Furman is a
part of and and I thank you personally for for being here today. Also we’d like
to acknowledge and applaud the work done by the members of the Task Force and the
Special Committee the Board of Trustees and students and faculty and staff and
alumni who shared their voices along the way and expressed their views very
openly and offered their expertise in a variety of ways during the process. The
Task Force and the Special Committee approached this endeavor with a very
clear understanding and appreciation of how important this matter is to Furman
and so they took time probably more time than some folks wanted us to
take but we took time and great care and were dedicated and thoughtful and
deliberate both in developing a process for their work that is the Task Force
and the Special Committee, and then in considering and forming the
recommendations. The Board of Trustees was committed to giving the
recommendations that were under its purview, a high level of very careful
consideration. Before discussing the specific recommendations, and I know that’s why you are here, I want to share just a bit about
the Board’s Special Committee on Slavery and Justice. For you to know that
the members included a diverse group of trustees who are alumni and friends of
the University, all of whom share a very deep love for Furman and we began our
work with the Seeking Abraham report itself and kept it very close by. We
returned to that report many times through the months for guidance and
inspiration and for information contained there, but we also conducted additional research and information gathering. We met with
members of the task force and other internal and external experts. We also
interviewed current and former trustees. Members of the Special Committee shared
personal stories. President Davis mentioned this, I want to
mention it as well and note it and highlight it for all of us. The kind of
sharing that I’m referring to did not occur over the first few weeks or even
months of our work together as a committee. The kind of sharing that I’m
talking about took courage and a deep level of trust and for many of us this
was a highlight of the entire endeavor. Hearing these personal stories by some
of our colleagues who were students here at Furman and these shared personal
experiences both to the Committee and then to the entire Board, as President
Davis noted, these stories inspired us and they confirmed that we were doing
important work and good work for Furman today and for our future and that indeed
we are helping Furman to be and to be perceived as an open and inclusive and
diverse community where all students had the opportunity to
thrive and all students have the opportunity to feel like they belong and
that they are welcome and part of the fabric of this University. I’m most
pleased to share with you that after conversation this past Friday, Saturday
at the Board of Trustees meeting, as has been mentioned, and
conversation that included the sharing of these personal stories that the board
did vote unanimously in favor of these recommendations, and here they are: Creating a day of celebration and a
statue of Joseph Vaughn, Furman’s first African American student, and placing the
statue in a prominent comprehensive place of celebration and reflection on
campus to help tell the story of Joseph Vaughn’s and others important
contributions to Furman’s history. I’d like to add that at the end of our
recommendations that the Board of Trustees meeting, the recommendation was
made by one of the trustees who was not on the Special Committee and it was
approved unanimously that the board will provide the lead gift for the construction of the Joseph Vaughn statue and place of remembrance. Next, honoring Lilian Brock Fleming and Sarah Reese, Furman’s first female African American students, in that same prominent comprehensive
place of celebration and reflection which will contain the Joseph Vaughn
statue. The university will also explore naming programs related to their fields
of study and their connections to Furman and to the Greenville community. Next, can
you see over there is the Bell Tower? Can you see it from here?
That beautiful walkway leading to the Bell Tower, naming that walkway
the Abraham Sims Plaza in recognition of Mr. Sims and other enslaved persons who
built and worked on Furman’s various campuses prior to the university moving
to its current location. Changing the name of James C. Furman Hall to Furman
Hall in honor and celebration of the entire Furman family and all of the
students and faculty and staff and alumni who have contributed to the
history of the university. Naming the Lakeside housing area the Clark Murphy
Housing Complex in honor of Mr. Murphy, an African American who worked for
decades at the Greenville Woman’s College, which as we know later merged
with Furman University. He was a much beloved figure in Furman’s history. Working with the Furman community to develop and place signage and markers
around the campus to better tell Furman’s story, Furman’s history, and
continuing to review our investments to ensure best practices related to
environmental, social, and governance principles and with input from the
entire Furman community the various ways that Furman presents itself outwardly
through its mission, vision, value statements and its motto. Finally, on
behalf of the Special Committee, I want to express to President Davis and to the
Board of Trustees and really to the entire Furman community our sincere and
profound gratitude for the opportunity to serve on this on this committee. It
was a wonderful experience indeed and an honor and privilege to serve Furman in
this capacity. Thank you. Good morning. It’s an honor to be here
with you all this morning. I would like to continue words of gratitude and thank
the Board of Trustees and Special Committee along with fellow Task Force
members for the hard work and commitment which culminates into today’s
announcement. I am thankful for those in our community who have lifted their
voices and contributed to this extraordinary time in Furman’s history.
As someone who worked so closely with students, I think daily about the impact
these decisions will have on their sense of the University’s commitment and
action toward a more inclusive future. What do students ultimately want
regarding diversity and inclusion? What do they expect from their University?
I’ve posed these questions to our students many times and the common
thread is to live in a community where they feel heard, that their experiences
are important and affirmed, and where they have a sense of belonging. To
further assert that impact these recommendations have on students, I’d
like to share some direct quotes. One student states personally “This report
has given my experience more purpose. I am dedicated to following the Task Force
and being an active part of it as a student. It has given me mobility to seek
out my own endeavors in bringing visibility to black history on campus
another student rights. It has made my decision to attend Furman one of pride.
As a black student I know that Furman, as most universities, has a history of
slavery but because my university was willing to research this matter proves
the integrity of Furman.” When asked why it is important for Furman to think
critically about its past ties of slavery another student states, “It is the
only way to create a different kind of Furman, a better one. One that is not only
focusing on diversity and inclusion, but one that is empathetic and willing to
commit towards justice and liberation. Furman has the opportunity to
become a southern institution of education that breaks the social
expectations and assumptions placed in society. Strategically, it has a choice to
change and walk on the humanitarian and right side of history.” Some students
faculty staff and alumni do not see themselves in the university story. These
members of our community know what it means to live in a place where their
experiences are not representative physically or otherwise throughout
campus. These approve recommendations will begin
to shift our story to one of truth-telling
representation and reconciliation. It is important for all students, faculty, staff
and alumni and the community at large to see the physical representation and tell
the university’s full history while reflecting a broader experience and
making all feel welcome. Success will require the participation of all. The
students must lead the way. There is quite a bit of work already underway by
students faculty and staff in the curriculum, programming and
administration, such as the expansion of the Joseph Vaughn scholarship and those
efforts are celebrated by the University. We must move forward and know that this
work is never complete. Efforts towards diversity inclusion are ongoing, but I
believe we are righteously moving in a direction toward inclusion, equity and
justice. Thank you. (applause) We will now open the floor for questions. Well I think it’s safe to say that there aren’t any questions at this time. But there very well may be over time. As we all have indicated that this is work that, well let me say this, today marks the beginning of a new era at Furman. And there will be questions that will continue to arise and challenges that we’re going to face. And we’re going to all do this together as I indicated with humility, listening to each other, civility, and all at the end we’re doing what’s right for Furman. Thank you again for being here. (applause)