But those students have since graduated, she noted, and the pandemic impacted the university’s ability to conduct public outreach.
Alexander Rosado-Torres, a graduate of Rutgers, once served as a Scarlet & Black tour guide. He remembered the feeling of standing on Will’s Way, a walkway named after an enslaved man whose unpaid labor helped build the campus. The experience, he said, was transformative.
“I was like, ‘Wow, Will, right?’”
Rosado-Torres is now a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, focusing on the history of education. He said his own research is uncovering the experiences of LGBT teachers, during the 60s and 70s in the United States, specifically in New Jersey.
“I’d say it was really in large part because of my own experiences in Scarlet and Black and being able to do that work,” he said.
But he said there was a subsequent “falloff” in public engagement after the first few years.
Darrick Hamilton, director of the Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification and Political Economy at The New School, said institutions like Rutgers need to be intentional if they want to actually reach students.
“Knowledge is a necessary ingredient, but it’s not sufficient,” he said. “We also need a concerted strategy to actualize that knowledge and disseminate that knowledge through public engagement.”
Rutgers is one of a growing number of colleges and universities in the U.S. confronting their early history, and in some cases making amends. Students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.,in order to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people from whom the institution profited.
Students at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island arein the wake of a report in 2006 documenting how the university’s founders played an active role in the transatlantic slave trade.
Student ImaniNia Burton heads the United Black Council at Rutgers, an umbrella organization for Black student groups. She said elevating the facts about the university’s founders and “acknowledging the fault is awesome,” but like the students at Georgetown and Brown, wants to see the administration do more, like provide more funding for Black students and foster a more supportive environment for them.
The impact of the Scarlet and Black Project is not lost on, a historian and the first Black president in the university’s history. He joined the university in the wake of the protests after George Floyd was killed and presides at a challenging time, when conservatives nationwide are suppressing efforts to teach American history under the pretext of fighting critical race theory.
“We have legislatures who are now trying to make it illegal—and this is a long history behind this thing—to teach certain aspects of our country’s past,” Holloway told Gothamist, “literally making it illegal to teach enslavement as part of our country’s past.”
Holloway said this makes it especially important for the university to tell history, starting with its own.
“We haven’t even begun and when I hear about people not knowing who Sojourner Truth is, it affirms that work is ongoing.”