Vanderbilt University will return an 83-year-old donation from the United Daughters of the Confederacy so it can remove a controversial inscription from one of its residence halls, the university announced on Monday.
The original donation of $50,000 was given to the George Peabody College for Teachers in 1933 toward the construction and naming rights of Confederate Memorial Hall. The building opened in 1935, and Vanderbilt acquired it when the university merged with George Peabody in 1979. The university has officially called the building Memorial Hall in recent years and has been seeking permission to remove the word “Confederate” from the inscription on its pediment.
Vanderbilt’s chancellor, Nicholas S. Zeppos, said in a message to the university on Monday that the name had been a topic of debate for generations of Vanderbilt students, faculty, and staff. “We have asked time and again how can we have this symbol in the sky — a pediment is intended to draw a gaze upward — as part of our aspirational goals?”
In comments to a Chronicle reporter, he added:
“After hearing from 18-year-old freshmen and people working on the campus, it became increasingly clear to me and the trustees that this pediment was inconsistent with the aspirations we have for a more inclusive, diverse campus. It is not a symbol that would welcome people into our community.”
In 2002, when Vanderbilt first attempted to rename the building Memorial Hall, in honor of Americans killed in war, the United Daughters of Confederacy sued to block the change. In 2005, a Tennessee appeals court decided that the university could remove the name, but only if it reimbursed the donation adjusted for inflation. Anonymous donors, whom the chancellor referred to as “individuals who have been deeply engaged in the university,” came up with the $1.2 million needed.
Mr. Zeppos disagrees with those who have accused the university of trying to rewrite history by removing the inscription. To emphasize that point, he said on Monday that Vanderbilt would hold an annual conference on race, reconciliation, and reunion. “We will teach history. That’s what we do,” he told The Chronicle. “I don’t think this building ever taught a class.”
— Katherine Mangan contributed to this article.
More recent articles from The Chronicle about controversies on college campuses over names, symbols, and histories associated with racism or slavery.
- Many Colleges Profited From Slavery. What Can They Do About It Now?
- Yale Committee Could Prompt More Talk About Racist Names on Campuses
- Historians of Slavery Find Fruitful Terrain: Their Own Institutions
- How Colleges Are Turning Their Racist Pasts Into Teaching Opportunities
- Removing Confederate Symbols Is a Step, but Changing a Campus Culture Can Take Years