Let’s discuss our university’s namesake


Rachel Dvareckas/The Hawks' Herald

RWU’s namesake has a sordid history, to say the least

Roger Williams University was founded in 1956 as Roger Williams College in Providence, Rhode island. 13 years later, a new campus was founded along the coast in Bristol. Since then, the university has grown to accommodate over 5,000 students and host the only Law School in Rhode Island. One of the most compelling aspects of RWU, however, is the man after whom it is named.
Roger Williams first moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England after completing his education. From there, he was very critical of the Church of England citing corruption and advocating for religious freedom from the government. After being accused of heresy and sedition, Williams was banished and moved to Narragansett bay where he founded Providence on land purchased directly from Native Americans which became a safe haven for other religious outcasts.. From there, he grew friendly with the Native Americans and often functioned as a peacemaker during various disputes.
One part of Roger Williams’ life that I think does not get brought up enough is his ties to the slave trade in the early North American colonies. In 1675, King Philip’s War broke out among the Native American population and the colonists. Despite efforts to fight back, Providence was burned in 1676 and, soon after, Native Americans captives were sold into slavery, either locally, or in the West Indies. Roger Williams was part of the group that facilitated these sales and made profit despite his past views denouncing the practice.
Of course, I am not denying or trying to discredit the impact and influence Roger Williams had in the formation of Rhode Island as well as the rights and freedoms of expression we enjoy today, nor do I think RWU should undergo a name change and extensive rebranding. All I ask is to tell the full story and acknowledge the inconsistencies in our namesake’s ideals.