Visiting Author Packs a Crowd at VCU to Discuss Rethinking Rufus

September 26, 2019

Professor Foster discussing his book Rethinking Rufus

On September 27, Thomas A. Foster, author of Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men, visited the VCU campus to discuss how the conditions of slavery gave rise to a variety of forms of sexual assault and exploitation that affected all members of the community. Over 70 VCU students, faculty, staff, and community members attended.  

At the start of the discussion, history professor Carolyn Eastman said, “We know a lot about enslaved women being sexually abused. Historical information about sexual abuse of enslaved men is harder to come by.”

The discussion centered on Foster’s research into the topic of coerced reproduction of enslaved people, and how enslaved men’s role in that reproduction divided them from their communities. Using dozens of sources, he showed vividly how devastating that division could be.

“Slavers forced enslaved men and women to partner because for slavers it was economically effective," he explained. Enslaved men branded as “studs” were the target of resentment and often prevented them from forming secure bonds with their own families. “Because men were forced to breed with multiple women, it denied men the ability to form a family bond.” 

Students had the opportunity to ask Professor Foster questions about his book. They asked about the legacy of such abuse, and the stigma that men might have experienced as a result. Discussion ranged widely, and especially touched on the fact that black men continue to appear in media today in hypersexualized ways that may reflect a long historical pattern.

At the end, two students won copies of Rethinking Rufus. To learn more about Professor Foster and his research, and to follow his active presence as a writer of op-eds that draw connections between the past and the present, follow him on Twitter @ThomasAFoster.

Thomas A. Foster is a professor of history and associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University. His visit was co-sponsored by the Department of History and the Department of African American Studies.