Students participating in INTO George Mason University’s summer English program learned about the significance of Juneteenth and went on a guided tour Tuesday of the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial and the Civil War redoubt located on the university’s Fairfax Campus.
Steven A. Harris-Scott, INTO Mason’s interim associate academic director for faculty affairs and strategic initiatives, led a crowd of about 60 students on the tour, discussing George Mason IV, his history as both a founder and slave owner, the Civil War and the ways that racism still exists in the United States.
INTO Mason students, who come from all over the world to learn English and American academic customs, often arrive in the U.S. with little understanding of how race has affected this country, said Harris-Scott.
“International students aren’t necessarily aware of the history of racism in this country, yet they experience aspects of racism when they get here,” said Harris-Scott. “It’s part of our mission to engage our international students in American culture, and that includes our history of racism. I thought Juneteenth and our historical landmarks provided us with a way to broach a conversation about American history and racism.”
Han Pham, an INTO Mason student from Vietnam, said she appreciated the tour and the explanation about the country’s history of slavery.
“I like that I had the chance to learn more about the history of the U.S.” Pham said.
About 60 INTO Mason students attend the intensive 10-week English language program offered in the summer. The students come to learn English, often with the intention to pursue further higher education in the United States. INTO Mason is a partnership between INTO University Partnerships and Mason. The program supports international students from application to graduation, and offers a variety of ways to help foreign students achieve success in the United States.
The tour and discussion, said Harris-Scott, was a way to get the students “out of the building to experience something physical and tangible” and also teach them about Juneteenth.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or Jubilee Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas, more than two years late. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth has long been a day of remembrance and an opportunity for Black people in the United States to honor their history and emphasize their citizenship.
Tomaya Itami, an INTO Mason student from Japan, said that learning about the U.S.’s past, including its history of slavery and racism, was “necessary” for him to know.
“I had no idea that George Mason used to have slaves, and I learned about how they were treated,” Itami said. “It’s important to know.”
Harris-Scott first took the students to the Civil War redoubt located in the woods behind the western edge of Parking Lot K. The redoubt is a circular earthen fortification constructed and used during the Civil War. A number of different Union and Confederate military forces occupied the fort during the war, including a brigade led by Stonewall Jackson.
Harris-Scott then took the students to both the George Mason statue and the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial, the centerpiece of Wilkins Plaza, spanning roughly 300 feet, to remember the history of the people enslaved by George Mason at Gunston Hall.
Wendi Manuel-Scott, a professor within the School of Integrative Studies, the Department of History and Art History, and one of the faculty members on the project, has said its goal is to “focus on expanding our community’s understanding of Mason, and to focus on the people he owned and what they thought about freedom.”
Munib Abdullah, an INTO Mason student from Saudi Arabia, said he was glad to have gone on the tour and to have learned about Juneteenth, but also that he was surprised that Mason owned slaves.
“It’s good to know about the good and the bad things about the past in order to help us with the present and the future,” Abdullah said.