Cutting Ties: Several Colleges and Universities Have Worked to Disassociate from Prominent Leaders with a Negative History or Image

By Stewart, Pearl | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, May 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Cutting Ties: Several Colleges and Universities Have Worked to Disassociate from Prominent Leaders with a Negative History or Image


Stewart, Pearl, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Efforts to rid colleges of the names of prominent figures in the slave trade, segregation and racial oppression have picked up steam in recent months as faculty leaders have joined student activists to demand action.

The latest efforts have had varying degrees of success, with protests and demonstrations still underway on some campuses. Recent examples include

Duke University: President Richard Brodhead announced last June that a dorm named in honor of Charles B. Aycock, a former North Carolina governor and avowed White supremacist, would be changed to East Residence Hall.

East Carolina University: after protests, trustees voted in February to remove Aycock's name from a campus dorm and to establish "Heritage Hall" to honor various historical figures, including Aycock.

Clemson University: the Board of Trustees in February rejected a call from the Faculty Senate to change the name of Tillman Hall, which honors Benjamin Tillman, a university founder and former South Carolina governor who was also an unapologetic racist.

Winthrop University: the Board of Trustees last October rejected calls from two former students to change the name of Tillman Hall on that campus, citing concern over a state law that prevents them from renaming it.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill): a current effort by students seeks a name change for Saunders Hall, which honors William Saunders, a reported leader in the North Carolina chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). So far, university officials have not honored the request.

The debate continues

At Clemson, as a vigorous debate has continued after the board's rejection, Faculty Senate President-elect James McCubbin tells Diverse "a strong majority" of the senate supported the resolution for removing Tillman's name. "Our board has spoken and we respect their decision--they have a right to make that decision even though we disagree with it. There likely will be more dialogue on the issue. Dialogue is healing, educational and healthy."

Clemson Chief Diversity Officer Leon E. Wiles also says the process has been "healthy," but Wiles believes that, despite the recent decision by the Board of Trustees, the institution's stakeholders "ultimately ... need to arrive at a community consensus regarding the name of the building."

At UNC-Chapel Hill, the board says its decision to leave Saunders name on the building was based on state policy. Adam Bledsoe, a doctoral geography student at the university, wrote an opinion piece in March for the investigative blog CounterPunch, challenging, "My grandparents picked cotton as sharecroppers outside of Memphis in the early 20th century--a time when Klan activity was prominent throughout the United States. Every time I walk through the doors to Saunders Hall, I am forced to accept the fact that the University I attend continues to honor the founder of a terrorist organization that intimidated and persecuted people like my grandparents."

In Mississippi, it took an embarrassing act of student vandalism to remove "Confederate" off a street sign. Last fall, the University of Mississippi quietly changed the name of a campus street from Confederate Lane to Chapel Lane several months after White students hung a noose around the statue of James Meredith, the first African-American to integrate the university.

At The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin), the names of Simkins Residence Hall and an adjacent Simkins Park were changed in 2010 after a law scholar wrote about the infamous family. The dorm was named for UT-Austin law professor William Stewart Simkins, who with his brother, UT-Austin Regent Eldred Simkins, had ties to the KKK. The park was named for his brother.

University of Denver law professor Thomas D. Russell authored a groundbreaking research paper in early 2010 that highlighted the Simkins' documented role in the KKK and the brothers' openly racist views. …

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