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Legacies of Slavery: the University to extend its consultation period to 27 January

Wills Memorial Building - University of Bristol

By Milan Perera, News Reporter

Following the long-awaited 'Legacies of Slavery' report by Professor Olivette Otele, the public consultation into whether University buildings with links to the slave trade should be renamed has been extended until Friday 27 January 2023.

The consultation was opened on 22 November 2022 receiving more than 3500 responses and has sparked an active discussion within the University community on whether University buildings which have links to the transatlantic slave trade should be renamed.

A series of events has been organised for local people, students and staff to invite them to share their respective views and to provide an opportunity to ask questions from the University on its historic ties to the transatlantic slave trade of African people.

A drop in event on the issue is scheduled to be held at at the Beckford Bar on the ground floor of Senate House on Wednesday 25 January from 9am to 11.30 am.

On the same day there is also a panel event that will take place in the Arts Hub, on 7 Woodland Road from 3pm to 4pm which people can attend in-person or online.  

Seven buildings named after individuals or families who benefitted from the transatlantic slave trade formed the core of this public consultation. The buildings in question were the: Wills Memorial Building, Fry Building, Merchant Venturers Building, HH Wills Physics Laboratories, Goldney Hall, Wills Hall, Dame Monica Wills Chapel.

Speaking at a hybrid event held at the Arts Complex under the auspices of the Vice-Chancellor in December 2022, Sarnya Thambirajah, the Equality, Liberation and Access Officer at the Student Union, pointed out: 'We are a very diverse community nowadays and the University has changed so much in the past century of its history and as such a diverse city and I feel like the spaces which we work in and study should reflect that. We are only going forward in time not backwards.'

Dr. Richard Stone, one of the co-authors of 'Legacies of Slavery' report who provided a PowerPoint presentation on the findings of the report during the public consultation pointed out though neither the Wills family nor the Fry family were directly linked to the slave trade, both families benefited through structures laid in place by slavery.

Dr. Stone further reiterated that, even after the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833 in the UK, exploitative practices such as indentured labour continued right through to the next century. According to Dr. Stone, University of Bristol which was founded in 1909 would not have come into being without funding from benefactors such as Henry Overton Wills III.

Public Consultation - Milan Perera

Speaking exclusively to Epigram, Dr Richard Stone pointed out that: 'I’m really pleased to see the research into University of Bristol’s links to slavery being made available to the public with the publication of the report. It’s crucial, though, that the work doesn’t end here.'

The public consultation closes on 27 January 2023.