A group of students at the University of North Texas are backing a petition that aims to name a new residence hall after a woman or person of color.
Of the over 87 buildings on UNT’s campus, only two are named after women, and none are named after people of color despite over 50 percent of the undergraduate student body identifying as people of color.
This is reminiscent of the situation on UNC's campus during the 2015 renaming of Saunders Hall, which was named after William L. Saunders, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
The building was renamed Carolina Hall despite a large group of students proposing it be named Hurston Hall after African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston.
Willie Wright, now a geography professor at Florida State University, wrote an op-ed on the issue for The Daily Tar Heel in 2016.
In an interview, Wright said he attended the unveiling of an exhibit on Saunders in the newly named Carolina Hall. At the event, he witnessed members of the University-appointed exhibit task force act condescendingly toward onlookers. Wright said the exhibit, University attitude and naming of the building belittled the advocacy of undergraduate students and those who came before them.
It was this unveiling and the injustices done to his fellow academics with the naming of Carolina Hall — a building Wright still refers to as Hurston Hall — which prompted him to act.
Wright said a common excuse is that the University and its buildings were named and built in a different time.
“But now we know better, and we need to do better,” he said.
UNT's situation is similar.
Misaki Collins, a member of UNT’s Student Government Association and a UNT campus tour guide, began the petition after a young girl on one of her campus tours asked if there were any buildings named after black people at UNT. Collins had to reply no, and this brief exchange set in motion the events to follow.
“For the rest of the tour I was talking about how UNT can make your dreams come true and how we’re so diverse,” Collins said. “I just felt like such a liar and felt like that girl was looking at me differently after the tour.”
Collins made the petition soon after this tour and introduced a student government resolution to support the petition, which had over 1,000 signatures as of Wednesday. Now Collins is hoping the next step will be administrative support and action, but it seems the administration is not entirely in Collins’ and the movement’s corner.
Nancy Kolsti, a former UNT spokesperson who resigned this week, emailed Collins last week stating the university seeks to name buildings after prominent figures and does not use a quota system. She went on to say the petition’s wishes were a form of reverse racism.
“Insisting that UNT must have a residence hall named after another woman or a ‘person of color’ when there are other deserving individuals is imposing a quota system, and to me, that is a form of reverse racism,” Kolsti said in the email.
In an email statement on the matter, UNT spokesperson Kelley Reese said Kolsti’s email does not reflect the university’s views, as Kolsti was expressing her right to free speech as a private citizen.
“We encourage our students to take an active role in helping to shape the university and applaud the actions of our student government to petition for values in which they believe,” Reese said.
Collins said while the petition doesn't have administrative support yet, she's hopeful student signatures will continue to increase in the coming week.
“Students don’t realize we have a voice,” Collins said. “But students here are finally realizing that, and they’re feeling empowered because they see how much student comments matter. That’s definitely something I want to remind everyone at all campuses of.”
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