Acknowledging the Past

William Peace University is in continuous pursuit of being a place where our diversity is celebrated, inclusion is practiced, and respect is commonplace. As a reflection of the university’s commitment, a task force was created during the 2020-21 academic year to conduct research in key areas and identify parts of our history that are not consistent with our current values as an institution. We knew that to move forward, we must understand our history as an institution and where it may/may not intersect with white supremacy, slavery, and/or racism.

The initial findings by the task force reveal areas in our history that are diametrically opposed to our current values. Today, we are publicly acknowledging those findings. We are making this public acknowledgment because living our values today requires us to reckon with the hard truths of our past.

The initial findings include the following:

  • Mr. William Peace, for whom our university is named, owned enslaved people. The 1860 census records his ownership of fifty-one enslaved people.
  • The initial, most prominent, and enduring symbol of William Peace University is Main Building, which has served as a Confederate hospital, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the iconic center of Peace Institute, Peace College, and William Peace University. Our research has revealed that the labor and skill that went into Main’s construction included that of enslaved people.
  • Past editions of the Peace yearbook, The Lotus (primarily prior to 1920), contain images and text that are objectionable, including racially stereotypical content and racial slurs. The 1946 edition is dedicated to Josephus Daniels who was complicit in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.

Given these facts and believing the presence of the William Peace statue could create a divisive environment on campus, and keeping with our current values, The Board of Trustees voted in support of removing the statue of Mr. William Peace from campus. This vote included input from the Senior Leadership Team of the university and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Acknowledgment Update

November 14, 2022

William Peace University held multiple community input and listening sessions to hear from our students, faculty/staff, alums, and the Board of Trustees regarding the historical findings WPU shared on March 22. The purpose of these sessions was to provide a confidential and safe space to interpret and process these facts and hear how we reckon with and respond to our history. Our partner, The Diversity Movement, led those sessions.

The Diversity Movement created a report based on input from those sessions and written feedback submitted via online forms and emails. That report has been shared with the WPU Senior Leadership Team, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), the Chief Human Resources Officer, the Board of Trustees, and a summary shared with students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

About the Listening Sessions

The Diversity Movement conducted 11 confidential listening sessions in late Spring for alumni, students, faculty and staff, and Trustees.

  • We had a total of 89 attendees at alumni events, with a few attending more than one session.
  • We had a total of 29 attendees at faculty and staff sessions, with a few attending more than one session.
  • We had a total of 10 student attendees. (We are not aware if any student attended more than one session.)

The Major Themes of the report are as follows:

  • There were very few participants who were surprised by the findings.
  • While a few were upset about the statue’s removal, most appreciated the University’s efforts to acknowledge its past and remove the statue.
  • Some participants expressed interest in the University exploring a name change.
  • Students, staff, and alums of color participants shared many instances of not feeling included as well as instances of microaggressions and racism.
  • Participants demonstrated strong support and gratitude for the efforts of the DEI office.
  • All participants demonstrated an interest in moving the University forward to becoming a more diverse and inclusive community.

Steps Taken

  • Since the Acknowledgement of our History, the University has taken several steps.
  • Per the request of some student-athletes, all of our jerseys have only the Pacers name and logo on them.
  • We have included students in our recent searches for new leadership and have further diversified our Senior Leadership Team.
  • We placed notices in each yearbook indicating that there could be content that is in direct contrast to the current values of the University.
  • The Faculty are engaging in discussions around inclusive teaching practices.
  • The Senior Leadership Team is integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion goals into employee performance plans.
  • WPU leadership will reallocate budget dollars and increase the staffing in the DEI office from one full-time employee and a graduate assistant to two full-time employees.
  • We will create an Acknowledgement Task Force composed of students, faculty, staff, and alums. This task force will conduct research and recommend to the Senior Leadership Team how the University can take additional steps to acknowledge its history properly.

Next Steps

  • Comprehensive DEI Plan – Our next step is undertaking a University-wide planning process to develop a comprehensive DEI Strategic Plan.
  • Continued Education – We will continue to provide educational programming and training to our students, faculty, and staff.
  • Pause Research – We will pause further research about our history until we build the strategic plan and work through the current findings. The process will help inform additional research options.
  • Name Discussion – We will revisit the interest expressed by some in exploring the university’s current name in 18-24 months after we have engaged and developed a comprehensive strategic DEI plan.
  • Statue – The statue will remain in storage.

This webpage will continue to be updated as changes occur.

Media: Direct all inquiries to mediateam@peace.edu.

Frequently Asked Questions

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The WPU Office of Diversity and Inclusion was founded in 2017 to provide support, advocacy, training and education and community-building events and programs for the WPU students, faculty and staff. The office has a programmatic focus on the needs and topics of minority students including students who identify as members of marginalized groups or identities such as LGBTQIA+, first-generation college students, women, international students, African American, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, etc. The DEI Office also works closely with the Office of Human Resources on DEI initiatives, education and programming for employees.

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Alumni can reach out to the Office of Alumni Relations directly at alumni@peace.edu to express their interest in being involved.

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The University has hosted events discussing allyship, historical events, multicultural celebrations and holidays, as well as current events. We have hosted external speakers to present and conduct workshops on DEI topics. We have also conducted Safe Zone training, held workshops for faculty on inclusive teaching practices, provided training to individuals serving on search committees, joined A Better Wake, and participated in the Inaugural City of Raleigh Juneteenth Celebration. Additionally, we’ve launched three employee resource groups covering the topics of supporting and advancing people of color, mentorship and professional development, and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. We also have bias response teams so students who feel they are experiencing bias on campus have a place to go and report their concerns. Those concerns are then investigated and addressed.

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Please see the latest updates above regarding our next steps.

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While our work in the DEI space has primarily been focused on creating an inclusive and welcoming space for our current students, staff and faculty, we are also regularly looking to invite new members to join our community. We search for people with various philosophical and societal perspectives, socio-economic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds. We are very fortunate to have a very diverse student body, and we have made improvements in the diversity of our staff and faculty, but there is more work to be done to foster a more diverse employee community, and we are expanding and strengthening our recruitment efforts to attract more diverse candidates to opportunities here at the University. A Bridge Plan for DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) has been created which includes comprehensive strategic planning to occur in 2022-23.

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During the 2020-2021 academic year, we formed a task force made up of select faculty and staff with research experience and familiarity with our history. The task force conducted initial research into the history of the University, including its founder, buildings and people associated with the institution, with a focus on how that history intersected with white supremacy, slavery and racism. We recognize that uncovering history is an ongoing process, and we will be engaging an external researcher to continue to research the key pieces of the history of William Peace University. The scope of the additional research, at this point, will include former Presidents, names on buildings and some classrooms, key named awards, and significant donor/contractor relationships.

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Our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is Leah Young. She leads our DEI initiatives in partnership with Human Resources and the President and leadership of the University.

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William Peace University (WPU) is proud of its ongoing commitment to be a place where we celebrate diversity and practice inclusion. To ensure alignment with our value of diversity, inclusion & respect, we decided we must understand the University’s history and any intersections it may have with white supremacy, racism, and slavery.

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There are no current plans to change the name of the University. We will revisit the interest expressed by some in exploring the university’s current name in 18-24 months after we have engaged and developed a comprehensive strategic DEI plan.