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Undergraduate students (left to right) Nathan Coonts, Anna-Lisa Lowenstein, Ashley Waiters, Bryan Anderson-Wooten, Hayle Meyerhoff, and Hyungtae Kim spoke in the second half of the Penn and Slavery Project presentation.

Credit: Maria Murad

As part of the Penn & Slavery project, students presented on Penn's historical ties to slavery and the propagation of racist ideology by Penn alumni to faculty, students, and local Philadelphia residents on Friday.

Students part of the Penn & Slavery project presented new information related to their previous research that the University depended on funding from enslavers and collected body parts without consent from enslaved people. 

The students took part in this panel as part of their final presentations in HIST 273, a class that was created as an extension to the 2017 undergraduate research study called the "Penn Slavery Project" that found that many of the University's founding trustees had substantial connections to the slave trade. Since then, student researchers and faculty have discovered that 75 of Penn’s former trustees were owners of enslaved people, including Penn’s first provost William Smith.

Credit: Maria Murad

College sophomore Sam Orloff

College sophomore Sam Orloff found that William Smith, who was the University's first provost, fundraised from the Church of England, which admitted to its own links to slavery in 2006, Orloff said. Smith also raised money from enslavers in the South and was also an enslaver himself. 

"I don't think the fundraising here in 1762 and 1764 was systematically raising money from enslavers the way it was in the South a decade later; however, I think this tells us that if you were an institution, like the Academy, that wanted to raise large sums of money in that period and you were going to the place where that money was, you were bound to raise money from enslavers," he said.

College sophomore Carson Eckhard found that the Morton Cranial Collection included 53 crania belonged to those of enslaved people from Havana, Cuba and two crania belonged to enslaved Americans. Samuel Morton, the original owner of the collection, graduated from Penn's medical school in 1820. The collection is now housed at the Penn Museum. 

The crania in the Morton collection should be returned to relatives, and if that's not possible, buried, said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, who attended the event and is the co-founder of Black and Brown Workers Co-Op, a social justice organization.

Penn responded to the students' findings by forming its own working group to investigate the University's ties to slavery after meeting with the students who were part of the research group. The findings were a reversal of Penn's denial in 2016 that Penn had no direct ties to slavery. Now the faculty working group provides administrative support to the student researchers, such as securing funding and putting on the Penn & Slavery Symposium that occurred earlier this April.

VanJessica Gladney, who is a Penn & Slavery research fellow, said there should be administrative efforts taken to address that skulls in the Morton Collection, including those from enslaved people, were taken without consent. 

Credit: Maria Murad College junior Archana Upadhyay

College junior Archana Upadhyay found that Hugh Lenox Hodge, who was a Penn professor of Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women from 1828 to 1863, received an abdominal cavity and fetuses of an enslaved woman from Virginia and put it in his specimen collection at Penn. 

According to the Penn & Slavery Project website, Upadhyay wrote that Hodge was part of a large "specimen obtaining" network of Penn medical professors, who owned or operated on enslaved people.

Eckhard also presented that former Penn mathematics professor, Hugh Williamson, who received a degree from Penn in 1757, worked on creating the Three-Fifths Compromise. 

Students also found that there was pro-slavery ideology in the debates held by the two undergraduate debate societies in the 1800s, The Philomathean Society and the Zelosophic Society. 

Haverford junior Hayle Meyerhoff found that many of the debates in the 1800s concerned questions surrounding slavery. She found that the Zelosophic Society decided in affirmative on the question of “whether the fugitive slave law is in accordance with the spirit of the constitution." Other questions included "Is slavery a moral evil?"

Meyerhoff said that although there are no records of the outcome of the debate on whether slavery is a moral evil, the fact that the question was debated at the time meant that students found both sides of the debate were valid opinions to hold. 

College junior Hyungtae Kim found that out of the five debates about slavery that occurred at the Philomathean Society between 1840 to 1845, one was not decided in an abolitionist standpoint. 

Muhammad said the presentations "shows that the University is complicit in not just the violence levied against enslaved people but also in propagating false and horrific ideas of racial difference."

Muhammad said he believes there needs to reparative action, including monetary reparations to the descendants of the enslaved people who are students. He added that it is the University's responsibility to unearth the connections between the institution and slavery.

Credit: Maria Murad Students used augmented reality through the app Zapper to create photos that came to life on attendees' cellphones.

Gladney said the administration is being supportive of the undergraduate research and should not take over the research on the connections between Penn & Slavery. 

"It's an academic institution. There are students here who are historians, there are students here who want to do things in the future that have to do with academia, so [the administration] should give students the resources to continue doing that," Gladney said.

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