With Permission from the Hickory Daily Record, Melinda B. Hager, Photographer

Dear Washington College Alumni,

I am honored to serve as the interim president of Washington College. I am looking forward to officially meeting you in the near future, likely in a virtual space, but I do want to jump into the work immediately and make the most of my term.

Among the many responsibilities I’m addressing, I am joining an ongoing conversation about optimal ways to continue to create a safe and inclusive environment for all of our students and employees, and it is my intention to make this work a priority. After hearing from many different groups and people—both in the interview process and after my appointment—and observing the work that has been accomplished in the past year, much of it by students, I consider it necessary to challenge the College community to confront its history, to listen to all voices, to work together with many partners, and to build a more inclusive community. The quest for racial justice is at the forefront of the national agenda, and Washington College through its history and values is perfectly positioned to provide leadership both in our words and our actions, on this campus and in our community.

As an early step, I am pleased to announce the new Washington College History Project and to share the good news that the project will be sponsored this year by the Richard Holstein Program in Ethics, which promotes ethics education in the classroom, across campus, and in the community. Washington College is among the U.S. colleges and universities that in recent years have begun paying greater attention to the historical role of slavery at their institutions. The College has a responsibility to be a leader in this national conversation due to our association with George Washington and our storied liberal arts tradition. George Washington was both a champion of the nation’s founding principles and implicated in its historic injustices, including the enslavement of Black people and the destruction of Native communities. The College’s commitment to rigorous inquiry and citizen leadership means that we do not shy away from difficult conversations or uncomfortable truths. We welcome the opportunity to learn, listen, reflect, and act.

It is time for us to make sure that this ongoing historical work is coordinated across the institution and made more public. Student leaders have also noted the necessity of directly addressing this history. With members from among the faculty, staff, student body, community, and alumni, the Washington College History Group has been commissioned to research, acknowledge, and reconcile the racial history of the College. This group has begun looking at the history of slavery and discrimination based on race at the College and in Kent County, but it is also illuminating the often-ignored role of African Americans in the history of the College and surrounding community. The Washington College History Project’s three-part mission is to study Washington College’s historical connection to enslavement and race-based discrimination, to acknowledge this history through public statements and actions, and to work for reconciliation and change in our campus culture in response to this historical legacy.

There is work needed on many fronts to achieve our vision of a more diverse and inclusive Washington College. This is just one of these fronts, but it is foundational. The College must confront where it has been and what it has done. There is much to be proud of in the College’s history, but it has also treated people badly and at times stood on the wrong side of history. We will be a better place for illuminating and acknowledging this past, and I charge the Washington College History Project with leading the way.
Wayne Powell