History

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. 

Listening Sessions
In addition to removing the statue, the university will begin with a Day of Acknowledgement on March 24th to enable our community to reflect on these findings. This will be followed by community input and listening sessions with our students, faculty/staff, alumni, and Board of Trustees. These listening sessions will allow us to interpret and process these facts as well as hear how we can reckon with and respond to our history in a way that makes us a better institution. We also recognize that uncovering history is an ongoing process, and we will be engaging an external researcher after the listening sessions have concluded to continue to research key pieces of the history of William Peace University.

These listening sessions will occur over the next several weeks to allow ample time for inclusion and reflection. The process will be led by a third-party local diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consulting firm, The Diversity Movement, and in partnership with our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Leah Young. We have published a calendar with the timing and locations for these discussions below.

The input and learnings from these discussions will be translated into a set of recommendations that will be shared with the university leadership and our Board of Trustees. We will then decide on the next steps we will take to move forward. The Board of Trustees and University leadership are committed to taking the appropriate action in a thoughtful and intentional manner. As an institution of inquiry, we believe it is imperative that we understand our past in order to create a better, more inclusive future for our entire community.

This webpage will continue to be updated as we decide on next steps and as more research is conducted. All media inquiries should be directed to mediateam@peace.edu

FAQs

  • Why did William Peace University conduct research into the institution’s history?
    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.
  • Who conducted this research?
    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.
  • What is the University's plan to address the findings?
    Given the findings 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. 

    In addition to removing the statue, the University is hosting a Day of Acknowledgement on March 24, which will include quiet spaces for reflection, counseling services for students and employees, and brief remarks from Dr. Brian Ralph. See below for details:

    • Quiet spaces for reflection and counseling services for students and faculty/staff:
      • Dinwiddie Chapel: 9-11 a.m.
      • Main Parlor: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
      • Ross Residence Hall Lounge: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
    • Members of the Counseling Center will be available exclusively for students.
    • Additional individuals will be joining us to support our community. Those include Dr. Dorrell Briscoe, Felix Morton and Jeremy Lea.
    • Brief remarks from Dr. Brian Ralph at 3:30 p.m. in the Dinwiddie Chapel.

    A community walk on March 25 at 2 p.m. will also be held. We will meet in front of the library.  

    Following the Day of Acknowledgement, the University will host community input and listening sessions with our students, their families, faculty/staff, alumni, and Board of Trustees. These discussion sessions will be designed to both allow us to interpret and process these facts as well as to hear how we can reckon with, and respond to our history in a way that makes us a better institution. The discussions will be led by The Diversity Movement and in partnership with our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Leah Young. WPU has published a calendar with the timing and locations for the community input and listening sessions (see: https://www.peace.edu/about/history/).

    The input and learnings from these discussions will be translated into a set of recommendations that will be shared with the University leadership and our Board of Trustees, and we will decide on next steps we will take together as a University to move forward. 

  • Were any University board members aware of this news prior to it becoming public? What was the reaction from the University’s board members?
    The board was made aware in a special session on March 14, 2022. This is their statement:

    “The Board of Trustees completely supports the efforts of William Peace University leadership, faculty and staff to gain a fuller understanding of how our university’s history runs counter to our current values and priorities and supports the University in taking the appropriate actions to address the situation. We stand with the WPU community in acknowledging the recent findings that are diametrically opposed to our current values. We will be active participants in the work ahead–both the community sessions and the actions that come out of those sessions–all with a focus on making our university a better and more inclusive, equitable institution.”

  • Will you be re-naming William Peace University?
    There are no current plans to change the name of the University. We will be carefully reviewing the input from the listening sessions and recommendations to guide all future decisions. We fully expect this topic to be discussed during the sessions.
  • Will the University be making any name changes to buildings on campus?
    We will be engaging an external researcher going forward as we have more research to do into our history. The scope of the additional research will include names on buildings.
  • In addition to the community input and listening sessions, how can alumni and friends be involved in the process of moving forward?
    Alumni can reach out to the Office of Alumni Relations directly at alumni@peace.edu to express their interest in being involved. 
  • Did the University have a DEI program in place prior to the findings?
    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.
  • Who is leading DEI at the University?
    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.
  • What has the University done to advance the work around diversity, equity, and inclusion?
    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. 
  • What steps is the University taking to continue its pursuit of being a place where our diversity is celebrated, inclusion is practiced, and respect is commonplace?
    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.

Community Input and Listening Sessions Overview

William Peace University is holding community input and listening sessions to hear from our students, faculty/staff, alumni, and the Board of Trustees regarding the historical findings that were shared on March 22. The purpose of these sessions is to provide a confidential and safe space to interpret and process these facts as well as hear how we reckon with and respond to our history.

Melanie Sanders, senior consultant from our partner The Diversity Movement, will be facilitating this one-hour session in partnership with the WPU Director of DEI, Leah Young. 

The Diversity Movement will be sharing themes and sentiments with the University’s leadership team but not direct quotes or names. Information shared in the session will be kept anonymous and confidential. There is nothing you need to prepare in advance—please just come ready to share. Your feedback is valuable. The input and learnings from these listening sessions will be translated into a set of recommendations that will be shared with the university leadership and our Board of Trustees. We will decide on the next steps we will take together as a university to move forward.

Please sign up for a listening session below. Note that there are virtual Zoom and in-person options. Sign-ups are limited to 20 attendees to allow time for everyone to share and we ask that everyone joins the session on time to maximize participation. After you sign up, you will receive a calendar invite within one business day from Jamie Ousterout at The Diversity Movement (jousterout@thediversitymovement.com). The calendar invite will include the Zoom or location details.

Please select an event below. 

There are no upcoming events at this time

Through 160 years, William Peace University has evolved to meet the changing needs of the students we serve.

William Peace University was founded in 1857 as Peace Institute, offering education for boys and girls in primary grades and to women from high school to college. Once a two-year college for women, WPU has evolved into a four-year, coeducational university, offering bachelor’s degrees in more than 30 majors, minors, and concentrations.

Our mission is to prepare students for careers in the organizations of tomorrow. Rooted in the liberal arts tradition, our students develop an appreciation for life-long learning, a focus on meaningful careers, and skills for ethical citizenship.

William Peace University Timeline

1857 Founding of the Peace Institute, offering education for boys and girls in primary grades and to women from high school to college. Named in honor of William Peace, a Raleigh businessman and church elder, who pledged $10,000 to the Rev. Joseph M. Atkinson in trust for the First Presbyterian Church.

1872 Opening of Peace Institute after delays due to the Civil War and Reconstruction. The First Presbyterian Church regained ownership of the property and repaired the Main Building.

1878 R. Stanhope Pullen, a local businessman and philanthropist, who owned the eight acres of land the campus is built on, signed over ownership of the property to the Peace Institute.

1940 Peace offered an academic program for young women that encompassed the last two years of high school and the first two years of college.

1943 Official name change from Peace Institute to Peace College.

1960s – early 1970s Peace College saw its greatest growth with the construction of 11 new buildings and many renovations to existing structures.

1996 Peace College awarded its first baccalaureate degree.

2009 Peace began offering coeducational evening courses through the William Peace School of Professional Studies.

2011 Continuing its revitalization efforts, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to transition Peace to coeducational and to rename the college William Peace University. The move signaled the institution’s commitment to growth in both size and scope.

2012 The first male students matriculated.

Exploring the Archives

Explore digitized copies of our yearbook, “The Lotus” – now available online for class years 1902 through 2010, with recent years forthcoming.

Explore the WPU Yearbooks

The Lotus is the official yearbook of the University. Each volume documents people and events throughout the history of the institution. Some of the yearbooks include words and images that are in opposition to the current values of the University. William Peace University is in continuous pursuit of being a place where our diversity is celebrated, inclusion is practiced, and respect is commonplace.