Decolonizing Humanities Project at William & Mary was started by Faculty Director Stephen Sheehi as a collaborative, interdisciplinary faculty initiative for transformative learning and the production of knowledge within the university and beyond. The Project aims to explore the ways in which we as a William & Mary community can integrate alternative modes of knowledge production, art, culture, performance, ecology, and social practices into our pedagogy, the lives of our students, our own lives and the university itself.
Our hope is not to rehash the old and tried questions considering what "Humanities can contribute to STEM" or to justify the economic and "practical" value of the Humanities in higher education. We, in fact, take issue with any paradigms that search to monetize and instrumentalize the Humanities as a utility for "tooling" our students to contribute to systems of political, financial, racial, settler economies that we believe are irredeemable because they are destructive, extractive, and perpetuate inequalities. Therefore, we aspire to transform higher education at William & Mary structurally through pedagogical and social justice practices that collaborate with and learn from various communities--whether from within the College, within the territory now known as Virginia, or within the Global South-- in order to build equitable and inclusive higher education.
The Decolonizing Humanities Project understands that the Humanities are structured by and complicit with the legacies of racism, sexism, patriarchy, settler-colonialism and colonialism but they also contain the realities and promises of popular resistance, liberation, and alternative forms of knowledge, art, ecology, and world views. We, therefore, excavate cultural forms, art practices, political expressions, theatrical and musical performance, and social norms to reveal histories, practices, and ideologies of racism, sexism, classism and hetero/cis-normativity.
William & Mary Land and Slavery Acknowledgements
William & Mary acknowledges the Indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands our campus is on today – the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Patawomeck, Upper Mattaponi, and Rappahannock tribes – and pay our respect to their tribal members past and present.
William & Mary acknowledges that it “owned and exploited slave labor from its founding to the Civil War; and that it had failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow Era.”
Decolonizing Humanities Project Land and Slavery Acknowledgements
We, as a faculty collective, acknowledge that the land on which we teach and we live was stolen from the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Patawomeck, Upper Mattaponi, and Rappahannock people. We acknowledge that the Pamunkey and Chickahominy, along with other tribe within and outside the Powhatan Confederacy, were dispossessed and dispersed with the signing of the Treaty of 1646, which legally assigned them as subjects of the Crown who did not hold the same rights as "free white men."
William & Mary established the Brafferton Indian School, which was responsible for inculcating indigenous peoples with the values of the colonizing English settlers with the intent of converting them to Christianity and degrading indigenous spirituality, identity, social practices, and culture.
William & Mary is 35 miles from Old Point Comfort, where the first black Africans, kidnapped from the Kingdom of Ndongo (present day Angola), were sold by English privateers to English settlers in the eastern territory of what is now known as Virginia. This occurred in 1619 not long before the College was chartered in 1693. The Decolonizing Humanities Project recognized the relationship between these two dates, understanding and acknowledging that Williamsburg and William & Mary were built by the slave labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans. We highlight that the university acknowledges that it “owned and exploited slave labor from its founding to the Civil War; and that it had failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow Era.” But we also stress how the United States remains built on social, political and governmental structures that perpetuate racial violence and inequities. We understand the role that higher education plays in perpetuating and shoring up racial capitalism in the country now known as the United States and globally.
Therefore, the Decolonizing Humanities Project seeks to dismantle forms of settler-colonialism and racism, with special attention to anti-black and anti-indigenous racism, and how they continue to structure our lives in the university, Virginia, and the settler-colonial state now known as the United States.
What is Decoloniality?Speaker & Event Highlights