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Chancellor’s committee considers renaming two UNC buildings

Thomas Ruffin Jr. Residence Hall is pictured on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

During two meetings on Jan. 20 and Jan. 24, the Chancellor’s Committee to Review History Commission Resolution discussed renaming two campus buildings — Ruffin, Jr. Residence Hall and Battle Hall.

This is part of an ongoing campus building renaming process targeting 10 campus buildings with known white supremacist namesakes, including Avery Residence Hall and Bingham Hall.

The buildings the committee discusses are based on a report submitted by the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward in April.

Jan. 20 meeting

  • The committee met to discuss the building name removal of Ruffin, Jr. Residence Hall.
    • Thomas Ruffin Sr. was the father of Thomas Ruffin Jr., and in July 2020, the Board of Trustees voted to remove Ruffin Sr.’s name from the building. The residence hall is now named after Thomas Ruffin Jr.
    • The History, Race and a Way Forward commission recommended that the Ruffin name entirely be removed due to "the individuals' racist views and actions," but the BOT asked for more research before voting on the matter.
  • The committee discussed Ruffin Jr.'s support of the Amnesty Act of 1872, which according to The Heritage Library, reversed penalties put on former Confederates by the 14th amendment, such as voting restrictions and office-holding disqualifications.
    • Chancellor's Committee member Michael Kennedy said some of the information on Ruffin Jr. included in the dossier was implied rather than factual.
    • “Even in his support of the amnesty law, it’s still a little bit gray as to what role he actually played," Kennedy said. "He may have written a letter, we don’t know all the context behind that.”
  • Residence Hall Association President Elliana Alexander said it is particularly relevant that Ruffin Jr.‘s name is on a residence hall.
    • “I can tell you that for students, particularly students of color, having the name of someone who was a slave holder and served for the Confederacy does impede their ability to focus on their studies, to enjoy the Carolina experience like everyone else gets to who doesn't live in a residence hall like this,” she said.
  • Committee member and UNC trustee Ralph W. Meekins Sr. said the committee should hear "some of the good things" about Ruffin Jr. to help see if there was "a significant level of evolution or moderation in their views,” as stated in the BOT renaming policy.
  • Maria Estorino, associate University librarian for Special Collections and director of Wilson Library said she felt uncomfortable with asking the commission to make a case for what's good about the people whose names are on buildings.
  • “The fact that these names are on buildings at such a prominent University tells us that these individuals were perceived and upheld in a positive light, and again the proposals are working to make a case different from that," she said. "The proposals are trying to make a case for removing the name, they are not trying to give us full well-rounded biographies of these individuals."
  • Committee Chairperson Mike Smith, dean of the UNC School of Government, proposed that the committee tentatively consider deferring the decision. He said by writing it up, the committee can review and see in writing what they’re comfortable supporting.
    • “I think getting down to the specificity that’s required in making a written recommendation may make it easier to finish this conversation and come up with a final recommendation on Ruffin," Smith said.
    • If the committee did this, it would mean that Ruffin’s name would remain on the building until more information was collected and addressed by either this committee or a future one.

Jan. 24 meeting

  • At its second meeting last week, the Chancellor's Committee discussed Battle Hall, which currently houses the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies.
    • Kemp Plummer Battle was a signatory of North Carolina's ordinance of secession from the United States. During his time as a University trustee starting in the 1860s — with a stint as University president from 1876 to 1891— Battle "used his positions of influence to perpetuate and sustain systems of racial oppression," the HRWF report said.
    • “If I was a faculty member or student walking through that door every day," committee member Cheryl Woods Giscombe said, "I’d need a reason to feel hopeful about the work that I’m going to be doing in the future, and I would feel demoralized if it was only with that name.”
    • Giscombe also said if the committee voted to keep the name, hyphenating it could be another possible option to look into.
  • The committee was also scheduled to discuss the name removal of Pettigrew Hall, but only had time to discuss the dossier for Battle Hall.
  • Smith spoke about the political implications of sending forward the recommendation to remove the building's name. 
    • “I don’t want to jeopardize all of our recommendations potentially if we are sending forward some that might be perceived as much weaker,” Smith said.
    • William Keyes, a former UNC trustee, added that they want people to know how thoughtful the committee has been throughout the campus building renaming process.
    • Regarding the BOT’s perspective on the politically-motivated voting on the proposals, Meekins said, “It might be possible they would appreciate one not moving forward, but it should not influence the process.”
  • Building renaming at the University has been ongoing since the BOT lifted a 16-year moratorium in the summer of 2020.
    • The James Cates Remembrance Coalition sent a proposal to University officials to rename the Student Stores Building after Cates in June. The proposal was sent to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin and the members of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units. It was endorsed by local organizations, groups and individuals.
    • As of October, the Chancellor has forwarded a recommendation to the Board of Trustees leadership.
    • The University announced it would rename the Student Affairs building and former Aycock Residence Hall in December.
    • The Student Affairs building, formerly the Carr Building, will carry the namesake of Henry Owl, the first American Indian student and person of color to attend UNC. Hortense McClinton will be honored with her name on the former Aycock Residence Hall. McClinton was the first Black professor at UNC.

What’s next?

  • Smith said he would draft the introduction to the committee’s report as a way to make final decisions. He did not say when the report would be completed.
  • At this time, it is unclear when the committee will meet next.