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Race on Campus

Engage in higher ed’s conversations about racial equity and inclusion. Delivered on Tuesdays.

From: Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez

Subject: Race on Campus: These Campuses Wanted Buildings Renamed. Administrators Opted to Wait.

Welcome to Race on Campus. In 2020, as colleges were pushed by activists to make changes that would alleviate racial tensions, many institutions quickly removed symbols that honored racists. But what about the colleges that waited to make the call? I revisited two institutions whose decisions are in limbo.

If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write me: fernanda@chronicle.com.

Waiting to Change a Name

Last summer, when colleges faced demands to rename campus buildings, many acted with lightning speed. Within weeks or months, names were stripped from buildings that honored historical figures who owned slaves or held racist views.

You may remember a few:

  • Princeton University stripped Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public-policy school.
  • Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus removed the former Gov. William H. Murray’s name from two buildings.
  • Clemson University ditched John C. Calhoun’s name from its honors college.
  • The University of Alabama cut the former U.S. Sen. John Tyler Morgan’s name from a campus building.

Other universities haven’t yet made such a call. Here’s a look at two of them.

University of Richmond

Renaming discussions were underway at the University of Richmond well before the racial-justice protests of last summer. In 2019, student-government leaders passed a resolution that called on the administration to examine the names on Ryland Hall, one of the first buildings on campus, and Freeman Hall, a residence hall.

In response, Richmond’s president, Ronald A. Crutcher, commissioned reports on the historical figures whose namesakes were in question: Robert Ryland,the institution’s first president, and Douglas Southall Freeman, a trustee and rector of the board in the early 20th century.

The commission studying Freeman, an influential journalist and historian, found that in the 1920s, he’d supported the eugenics movement, segregation, and the idea that Anglo-Saxons were the superior race.

In a separate report on Ryland, the commission detailed that he helped expand the institution from a small seminary to a thriving college. Though he decried slavery in his youth, during the college’s expansion Ryland enslaved people and leased out some of his enslaved workers to the college, according to the report.

After sharing the reports in February, Crutcher wrote that the university historically held Freeman in “high esteem,” but Freeman held racist views that the institution rejects today. Ryland “embraced enslavement as part of a divine plan,” Crutcher wrote. “I deeply regret the University’s complicity in enslavement.”

Ultimately, Crutcher announced that Richmond would not remove the two names from the buildings. Keeping their names would remind the university of its progress and “shortcomings,” he wrote.

“At the University of Richmond, we have made a choice to confront our history with honesty and purpose and to identify gaps and crucial stories of people previously excluded from our institutional narrative,” Crutcher wrote.

He added that the decision was complicated, especially given his background. “As a 73-year-old Black academic, I have found myself countless times walking through the halls of various universities and buildings named after men who not only did not look like me or hold my values but would most likely have viewed me as inferior and an interloper simply because of my skin color,” he wrote.

He outlined a plan for the buildings: When Ryland Hall reopens following a renovation and expansion, the institution will make available information about Ryland and the university’s use of enslaved people when Ryland was the leader. A new terrace will be named after an enslaved person or people, Crutcher wrote.

The Board of Trustees approved Crutcher’s plan to rename the residence hall Mitchell-Freeman Hall, after John Mitchell Jr., a former enslaved person who later became editor of the Black newspaper the Richmond Planet.

But after criticism erupted from the campus — including a Faculty Senate vote of no confidence in a trustee — the board said in April that it would again review the plans. In Crutcher’s April message to alumni about suspending the decision, he wrote that the new process for the decision would be “more inclusive,” and vowed to listen to alumni opinions.

Crutcher’s May update to the campus named the committee members and said its work would begin “in earnest” in August. The new committee may have reason to expect a different result this time: Crutcher will step down from the presidency this summer.

Our Katie Mangan interviewed Crutcher during a virtual event on Monday. You can watch the video on-demand here.

University of Georgia

Just a week after George Floyd’s murder spurred nationwide protests, a column in the University of Georgia student newspaper, The Red & Black, called on administrators to remove Henry W. Grady’s name from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Grady was the former editor of The Atlanta Constitution and a supporter of white supremacy.

Weeks later, the university system announced it would form an advisory group to review names on campus buildings and recommended any changes. No timeline was established; a news release instead stated, “Recommendations from the group will be announced publicly upon completion of its work.”

The group has met three times since it was created, but decisions and historical reports have yet to be doled out, according to the advisory group updates. In its last update, posted in March, the group wrote that their work would be completed “soon,” but it was still combing through all the provided information, which could take longer. The university did not respond to a request for an update.

Some students told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month that the lack of apparent progress has left them disappointed and frustrated.

Free Report: “Building Diverse Campuses”

Now available online, the report, by our Sarah Brown, explores key questions like: Is the pipeline problem real? Does diversity training help? How can a task force be most effective? And it offers four case studies of campuses that have increased faculty diversity and made racial equity a priority across the institution. Give it a read, let us know what you think, and feel free to share the link with your colleagues.

Read Up

  • A commission at the University of South Carolina recommended removing 11 names from campus buildings that honored slave owners, people who fought for the Confederacy, or those who held racist views. To make the changes, the university has to get a two-third supermajority vote from the state legislature. (The Chronicle)
  • When Nikole Hannah-Jones rejected a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and took one at Howard University instead, it was a victory for historically Black colleges and universities everywhere, writes Don Calloway. Now, it’s important that donors keep all HBCUs in mind, not just the most prestigious of the bunch. (The Washington Post)
  • In Montana, Native Americans, most of them women, made up one-third of the 110 active missing persons cases at the end of 2019, the year with the latest available data. Nationally, Native women’s cases remain unresolved as well. Why? (The New York Times)
  • From The Chronicle Review, here’s why the debate of classic books versus diverse books is so fraught. (The Chronicle)
  • This month Zaila Avant-garde became the first Black competitor to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Last week, her hometown of Harvey, La., threw her a second-line parade worthy of a winner’s homecoming. (Nola.com)

Fernanda

Fernanda is newsletter product manager at The Chronicle. She is the voice behind Chronicle newsletters like the Weekly Briefing, Five Weeks to a Better Semester, and more. She also writes about what Chronicle readers are thinking. Send her an email at fernanda@chronicle.com.