N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, proposed a bill in February that would lower tuition at FSU, one of the UNC system’s five historically black colleges. The bill also includes provisions that would change the name of the university to UNC-Fayetteville.
N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the only reason he could understand a potential name change would be to align the UNC-system schools under similar names.
But Aaron Epps, membership and elections co-chairperson of the Black Student Movement at UNC-Chapel Hill, said a change to a university’s name — especially an HBCU’s — will take away historical significance and diversity.
It particularly impacts African-American history, he said.
“The renaming of the first African-American university in our state is a method of forcing African Americans to assimilate,” Epps said. “In my opinion, this is a step in erasing African-American history from the university while standing behind the name of ‘inclusion.’”
Horn said he doesn’t see any substantial reason to change FSU’s name.
“It seems to me FSU’s name has been that way for quite some time,” Horn said. “So I don’t see what will be accomplished by (changing the name), so it should be the decision of the university system and the university itself.”
And a name change might deter certain demographics of students from applying to the university, said Stanley Johnson, a history professor at FSU.
“I have chatted with others who feel that the proposed change may include other changes that add limited access to higher education for students who come from compromised backgrounds,” he said.
Johnson said while the negative effects of the name change are not certain, it is something that needs to be discussed.
“The proposed name change is being advanced by the state legislature, not the UNC system,” he said. “This could mean greater uniformity and expansion of programs, along with an increase in funds and resources.”
Lowering tuition rates could attract students to the university, Horn said, but the accompanying name change doesn’t need to occur.
“A rose is a rose by any other name,” he said. “I’m a supporter of our HBCUs and that our heritage is important to the schools themselves and to the state. But changing the name I don’t think adds or necessarily detracts from the university.”
Epps said the main concern is not just the name, but that a university maintains diversity and inclusivity on campus.
“You can change a name all day, but if the institutions within that university do not reflect efforts to make the campus more inclusive, then the name change is completely void,” he said.