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University releases historic letter that demonstrates systemic racism

The University of Dayton has published a recently uncovered 1930 letter from UD’s Office of the President to civil rights leader, scholar and author W.E.B. Du Bois that demonstrates systemic racism at the institution through past discriminatory admissions policies and practices.

While UD's first African American graduate appears to have attended regular classes in the early 1920s, the letter indicates this was an exception, and in practice many African American students were denied equal opportunity in at least the 1920s and 1930s because of their race. The artifact was found by UD Associate Professor of History Caroline Waldron in W.E.B. Du Bois' papers in the archives at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Du Bois had written to ask for information on African American enrollment for an article he was writing for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP. UD's response acknowledged that African Americans were not admitted into day classes "...because of the considerable number of students we have from southern states." The letter goes on to indicate that African Americans were admitted to law classes and evening classes " which are almost wholly composed of Dayton people."

"This demonstrates that the University allowed Jim Crow segregation to extend to campus, and is concrete evidence of the kinds of systemic racism that denied opportunity to generations of people because of the color of their skin," wrote President Eric F. Spina and Vice President for Mission and Rector Father James Fitz, S.M., in a letter to campus. "The University was wrong to engage in this practice. We express our deep remorse and apologize as president and rector on behalf of the University."

Read an article about the letter and see the video below about the letter and systemic racism, and read a message to campus here. 

The University, as part of its commitment to become a more diverse, equitable and inclusive institution, as well as its pledge to become an anti-racist university, understands it is important to acknowledge its history in discriminatory policies and practice that contributed to systemic racism.

"While there have been times in our history when we have taken a stand for equity and inclusion, including some of our Marianist religious in the 1960s, an important part of becoming the university to which we aspire is to make visible forgotten aspects of our history — including those parts of which we are ashamed," Spina and Fitz wrote. 

"Uncovering and acknowledging what has been forgotten is essential to understanding the forces and decisions that shaped the University we know today. Facing our past is a prerequisite to moving forward in an anti-racist manner."


News and Communications Staff