Tuesday, Oct 19, 2021
A letter from President Dell'Omo
Dear Rider Community,
Since the summer of 2020, a group of dedicated individuals from across the institution have been working together as part of the Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery. The group’s work has been centered on proactively researching the University’s historical relationship and connection with slavery and enslaved people.
This past summer the Task Force put forth a series of recommendations that included the renaming of Van Cleve Alumni House on Rider’s campus. Tomorrow, October 20, Rider’s Board of Trustees is set to vote on a resolution in support of renaming Van Cleve Alumni House.
Along with the Board of Trustees, I have been a strong supporter of the task force’s work since its formation and I’m proud to endorse its recommendations on how Rider can best respond to the University’s recently discovered connection to slavery. In addition to the renaming of the building, these include creating materials that memorialize those who were enslaved and educating our community around this history.
Rider’s connection to slavery centers on Benjamin Van Cleve, the namesake of the Van Cleve house. For many of us, the name “Van Cleve” is familiar but obscure. The task force’s findings have illuminated Van Cleve’s life and career, which included serving in the American Revolution, holding enslaved people as a private citizen and speaking out in support of slavery and strengthening restrictions on enslaved peoples as a New Jersey legislator around the turn of the 19th century.
An article in the fall issue of Rider magazine, which is available online, goes into detail about Van Cleve’s life and the history of slavery in Lawrenceville and New Jersey. The article demonstrates how the task force’s work has already increased our knowledge and understanding of this important history, and I’m very encouraged that, taken as a whole, the task force’s recommendations will continue to aid us in remembering and understanding our shared history and strengthen Rider’s commitment to inclusive excellence.
While the topic of memorializing historical figures has become increasingly fraught over the past several years, I believe the task force’s recommendations are appropriate for Rider and constructive for our community for several reasons.
First, Rider has never intentionally associated itself with Van Cleve. His house was part of the property Rider purchased in 1956 as it prepared to move from Trenton to Lawrenceville. It continues to bear his name solely through convention; it was never formally named by Rider.
Second, and more importantly, I believe it is untenable for Rider, as an institution that strives to be a leader in inclusive excellence, to maintain the status quo now that these facts are known. If we are truly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, we have an obligation to act in ways that champion those values. In this instance, Rider cannot meet that obligation without enacting the task force’s recommendations.
I am convinced this is the right action for the Board of Trustees to take and look forward to sharing more information with you soon. I want to thank the members of the task force for their work, dedication and important contributions. Their efforts have been instrumental in helping us consider these complex historical issues, which are in so many ways related to the dynamics of American society today. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of these dynamics is indispensable to the mission of higher education and the essential work of citizenship.
Gregory G. Dell'Omo, Ph.D.