Born 200 years ago, Frederick Douglass lives on through collaborative at SRU


Frederick Douglass Institute Graphic

Feb. 14, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Frederick Douglass was born into slavery 200 years ago, but the leader of the abolitionist movement is remembered today in many ways. One important way is through the work of the Frederick Douglass Institute, a collaborative between Slippery Rock University and each of Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education universities.

The FDI's purpose is to create inclusive university communities and transformative connections among historically underrepresented students and faculty, as well as other communities across the Commonwealth and beyond.

Payne Headshot


To celebrate the bicentennial of Douglass' birth, SRU's FDI is supporting a student cultural immersion trip to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, where Douglass escaped slavery in 1838, not far from where he was born, Feb. 14, 1818, in Talbot County, Maryland.

Douglass went on to become one of the most well-known civil rights activists of the 19th century, writing several autobiographies about his experiences as a slave and life after the Civil War, as well as advising presidents, championing human rights causes and being appointed to several political positions.

SRU students will be able to learn more about Douglass, thanks to an $800 grant from the FDI to the Black Action Society, SRU's student organization that promotes the African-American experience. BAS is leading the cultural immersion trip to Baltimore, Feb. 23-24. It is open to all SRU students and will include an underground railroad tour.

"Frederick Douglass was a slave on the Inner Harbor, so they'll see how he was able to escape," said Ursula Payne, professor of dance and director of SRU's FDI. "The FDI has supported their cultural trips, but it's student-driven. They (the BAS) determine where they want to go and they organize it; it's great leadership they are demonstrating."

Approximately 50 students and three chaperones will make the trip, which costs $50 per student and includes transportation, hotel, a group meal and tours, thanks to funding by the FDI and the Slippery Rock Student Government Association.

"It's huge support," said Kennedy Moore, a junior resort recreation and hospitality management major from Braddock, who is the BAS president. "In the past, we've gone to places like Washington, D.C. or New York, so this is something new for us this year and we can explore a new area. I'm grateful that (FDI) contributes to our educational programs and they believe what we are doing is important."

The FDI is promoting several activities to celebrate Douglass' anniversary.

Payne and Cindy LaCom, professor of interdisciplinary programs and director of the gender studies program, will present a paper at the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Interdisciplinary Conference, hosted by West Chester University, April 5-6. The conference will include research presentations related to FDI's initiatives from across the State System.

Payne and LaCom's paper, titled "Intersectionality, Social Justice and the Media," explains their strategy of incorporating programs that invite the campus community to rethink intersections of race, gender, class and social justice.

The FDI is also is collaborating with a wide variety of departments to introduce diversity topics into discussions, including social justice for an upcoming speaker Feb. 28 hosted by the Criminology and Security Studies Department, and a speaking event cosponsored by the Gender Studies program and the Parks, Conservation and Recreational Therapy Department. FDI and Gender Studies will also cosponsor two residencies with guest lecturers teaching master classes as part of this spring's Kaleidoscope Arts Festival at SRU.

The Department of Dance will perform at the speaking event receptions with performance art that reflects the tone of the discussions. SRU's Afro-Colombian Dance Ensemble will perform at the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Interdisciplinary Conference.

"This will be great exposure for our dance program and for the State System to see that we have students who are studying forms of the African diaspora," Payne said. "(The FDI) is about raising consciousness but also about spreading cultural awareness as well."

The FDI invites students to apply for the Frederick Douglass Research Award, which recognizes the principles exemplified by Douglass and the value he placed on education and human rights. SRU students are eligible to apply for the $600 award. The recipient is expected to participate in FDI activities and serve as a student ambassador for the collaborative. Application deadline is Feb. 28. An application is available by clicking here.

Additionally, the FDI announced the newly created Dr. Thomas Gaither Award for Excellence to be given to a student who best exemplifies the qualities of activism and leadership in social justice. Thomas Gaither, professor emeritus of Biology who taught at SRU for 38 years, worked in the Civil Rights Movement as an original Freedom Rider and with the Friendship Nine has been honored globally and documented by the Smithsonian Institute. Click here to view the announcement and contribute.

For more information about the FDI, contact Payne at 724.738.4509 or For more information about the BAS cultural immersion trip to Baltimore, contact Moore at

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |