Columbia University has shared a new report explaining the school’s historical ties to slavery, TIME reports. The school, which was founded in 1754 as King’s College, comes forward about its past after other universities, such as Georgetown, did the same in recent months. The report confirmed that, in the school’s early days, it relied heavily on donations from people who benefited from the slave trade.
The detailed account also shares that at least five of the 10 college presidents serving between 1754 and the Civil War’s end owned slaves, and that other school leaders were also guilty of having their own slaves. Even though Columbia is known for campus activism nowadays, this wasn’t always the case—many early students came from families who promoted slave trading, and George Washington’s stepson even brought a slave with him to college.
“People still associate slavery with the South, but it was also a Northern phenomenon,” Columbia historian and writer of the report Eric Foner told the The New York Times. “This is a very, very neglected piece of our own institution’s history, and of New York City’s history, that deserves to be better known.”
Understandably, the university still seems to be coping with the news—but the community knows that acknowledging its history is essential in today’s political climate. “Every institution should know its history, the bad and the good,” Columbia president Lee Bollinger told the Times. “It’s hard to grasp just how profoundly our contemporary society is still affected by what has happened over the past two or three centuries.”
While it’s difficult to see these historical connections today, it’s incredibly important that Columbia isn’t trying to deny or simplify the news. The school has yet to release any institution policy changes since the report was published.