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Wednesday May 31st

'Completely neglected': Looking at UNC's progress on renaming campus buildings in 2020

<p>UNC's Board of Trustees overturned a moratorium about renaming buildings on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Thomas Ruffin Jr. Residence Hall was one of the buildings recently renamed, pictured here on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.</p>
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UNC's Board of Trustees overturned a moratorium about renaming buildings on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Thomas Ruffin Jr. Residence Hall was one of the buildings recently renamed, pictured here on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

It’s been five months since the Board of Trustees lifted its controversial moratorium on renaming campus buildings. 

The moratorium, implemented five years ago under the leadership of former Chancellor Carol Folt, placed a freeze on renaming campus buildings for 16 years. 

This took place at the same meeting where the BOT voted to change “Saunders Hall” — named after former Ku Klux Klan leader and UNC graduate William L. Saunders — to “Carolina Hall.”

Although the moratorium was lifted this year, the path to renaming campus buildings with ties to white supremacy is a long road. 

“I think it's a double-edged sword,” said Rashaad Galloway, a UNC alum who created a petition in May to quash the moratorium and rename campus buildings named after slaveholders and white supremacists. “Of course, we can praise the Board of Trustees for rescinding the moratorium, but for me, that was what they were supposed to do anyway. There is no gray area with this issue.” 

Since the lifting of the moratorium, four names of campus buildings have been removed — Charles Aycock, Julian Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin Sr. — and have been given interim names, such as Residence Hall One in Lower Quad and the Student Affairs building. 

“There are decades of activism that came before this Commission's work, and then we'll continue on as we do our work and go forward,” said Patricia Parker, co-chairperson of the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward, the group in charge of reviewing building names with these ties. 

The Commission has so far identified more than 30 names of white supremacists and slaveholders across UNC. The buildings range in function and prominence from residence halls and academic buildings to the football stadium. 

But its review is simply the start of an extensive process to amend the names of those campus buildings, which ultimately leads to a vote from the Board. 

After the Commission submits its recommendation, it is reviewed by the Chancellor’s 13-member ad-hoc committee. 

“It’s okay to admit that there are things that we don't know or that we haven't yet learned,” David Routh, chairperson of the ad-hoc committee, said. “We're all learners. We're all lifelong learners.” 

He said that he didn’t learn about North Carolina’s history with white supremacy in school, and feels it’s important to address and understand UNC’s past with race relations. 

“We need to take seriously the responsibility to teach our full history period,” Routh said. “I think that's an enormous responsibility.”

Upon its review, the names are passed onto Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. From then on, the Board of Trustees discusses and votes to discuss removing the name. 

But that process only extends itself to removing the building names, not renaming them. The BOT has not outlined any sort of process or policy to rename campus buildings. 

“We may all see something relatively soon about a step forward on the process around renaming,” Routh said. 

On Nov. 14, Guskiewicz said renaming campus buildings is an important step in addressing UNC’s past. 

“There’s ongoing work to find ways to honor those who helped to build the University,” Guskiewicz said. 

BOT Chairperson Richard Stevens, who was on the Board when the moratorium was lifted, agreed with Guskiewicz. 

“This effort is important for our University, but you have a long history, most of which we're very proud of and some of which we have issues with, obviously,” Stevens said. 

But faculty have noted that protests from students reignited the issue last year. Parker said she believes it helped UNC examine the issue further. 

“Nothing happens unless there's a mechanism for it to happen, but make no mistake about it,” Parker said. “That mechanism was definitely influenced and contextualized, by the fact that there were so many calls for the moratorium to be lifted, so that we can continue this important conversation that was happening all over the country and over the world.”

Galloway — whose petition currently has more than 13,000 signatures — said he started researching UNC’s history further upon attending one of Maya Little’s court sessions last year. Little, a doctoral student, was arrested in early 2018 for defacing the Silent Sam Confederate statue with a mixture of blood and red ink. 

“I could feel the tension on campus,” Galloway said. “I can feel really just the heart of the Black community, due to the fact that, you know, we have been completely neglected by our University.” 

Galloway said that, although renaming campus buildings is a step in the right direction, UNC must involve students in the process of fixing UNC’s racist past as a way to make it an equitable process. 

“I don't think they've taken that next step to show that they truly care,” he said. “I think it was almost a publicity stunt to get students off of their back. And really just to get them out of the media.”


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