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'No formal timetable': Building renaming process still underway


McClinton Residence Hall is pictured on May 17, 2022. 

In April of 2021, the University Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward submitted its recommendation letter for renaming 10 buildings.

These include Avery Residence Hall, Battle Hall, Bingham Hall, Graham Residence Hall, Grimes Residence Hall, Hamilton Hall, Morrison Residence Hall, Pettigrew Hall, Ruffin Residence Hall and Vance Hall. 

The next group involved in the process, the Chancellor’s Committee to Review History and Race Commission Resolution, recently submitted its recommendations to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz for building renaming.

A history of building renaming

In early 2020, Guskiewicz announced to the campus community the creation of the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward, whose mission is to engage with the University’s racial history and recommend to the Chancellor how the University should reckon with its past.

In the fall of 2015, former Chancellor Carol Folt created a similar Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History after the Board of Trustees voted to rename Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall due to its namesake’s white supremacist ties. The BOT also voted to enact a 16-year freeze on renaming buildings.

The task force was charged with telling the University’s full history. Some of its goals were to plan historical markers and exhibits for McCorkle Place and Carolina Hall and reexamine UNC's published materials about its buildings and memorials.

In February of 2020, Guskiewicz shared a petition with the BOT calling to repeal the 2015 building renaming moratorium, which would have halted the discussion about renaming campus buildings until 2031.

In June of 2020, the BOT voted to lift the moratorium in a special meeting in response to the petition, which accumulated almost 10,000 signatures. About a month later, the BOT approved a new building name removal policy.

Breaking down the policy

“The Chancellor or Board of Trustees may begin the process of reconsidering the name on a University building or other public space at their own initiative or in response to a written request to the Chancellor,” according to the policy.

The Chancellor can then decline the request, ask for more information or move the request to an ad hoc committee they named for consideration, UNC Media Relations said.

The Chancellor’s Committee to Review History and Race Commission Resolution has served as this ad hoc committee. 

The committee then reviews the written requests for removal, investigates the claims and provides a written report of its findings to the Chancellor, who can move the request to the BOT. 

The BOT voted on the request to make a final decision on name removal, and there is no timetable for a final decision, according to an email from a University spokesperson.

Recent action taken

At the end of July 2020, the BOT voted to remove the names Charles Brantley Aycock, Julian Shakespeare Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin Sr. from campus buildings.  This came after a recommendation from the University Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward that the names be removed due to the racist views and actions of those who the buildings were named after. 

In May of 2022, the University held a building renaming ceremony to declare that McClinton Residence Hall would replace Aycock Residence Hall and Henry Owl Building would replace the Carr Building.

McClinton Residence Hall is now named after Hortense McClinton, who was the first Black faculty member at UNC, while the Henry Owl Building is named after Henry Owl, the first American Indian and person of color to enroll at the University.

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In April of 2021, the University Commission submitted another recommendation letter for 10 additional building name removals.

Leading up to that letter in July of 2020, the chairs of the Departments of History, Political Science and Sociology and the Peace, War and Defense Curriculum submitted a letter to the chancellor requesting his “forceful and expeditious intervention to change the name of the building in which (they) work from Hamilton Hall to Pauli Murray Hall.”

A closer look at Pauli Murray Hall

Lisa Lindsay, the chairperson of the history department, signed the letter. She said removing building names that have ties to white supremacy is important because it sends a powerful signal of the values of the University and its departments.  

“We live in a town, in a state, where people regard UNC as a leader in thought and in intellectual movements,” Lindsay said. “And so what UNC does, even on our own campus in one of our own buildings does reverberate around the state and people pay attention to it. And I think that the messaging of the building names is something that has a wide ripple effect.”

She said she thinks renaming efforts are long overdue and that there are many candidates for renaming on UNC’s campus, as well as throughout the country.

“I think in the case of the building that houses the social sciences departments, and particularly that houses the history department, that makes an urgent case for renaming,” Lindsay said. “We can’t have the department focused on history named after somebody who used the tools of history to justify white supremacy.”

Where are we now?

Since then, the Chancellor’s Committee recently completed their review of the 10 buildings and provided a recommendation on each. The Chancellor is currently in the process of considering each recommendation “individually and thoroughly,” a University spokesperson said.

“In following these processes, the University is taking concrete steps to build our community together. I am grateful to the Board of Trustees for clarifying this process and to the students, faculty and staff who have advocated for change. I am confident that new names will represent the values of our campus and quickly become part of the fabric of our community,” Guskiewicz said in an email statement. 

Güzin Karagöz is a UNC sophomore and serves as the co-chair of the Residence Hall Association Renaming Committee.

During the spring of 2022, the committee surveyed on-campus residents about the impact of the building renaming process. 

She said the survey revealed that the students who were discontent and upset with the building names were disproportionately students of color.

“When you look at the results, from the people that wanted (the buildings) to be renamed, (they) mention how it's impacting their daily lives, it makes them feel less valued at UNC just because they're not white, which is very problematic and something we're striving towards changing,” Karagöz said.

Why is it the process taking so long?

Karagöz said she believes the length of the process is linked to parties ensuring the recommendations' research is exact and thorough.

“It’s a 90-page document, so it’s going to take a while,” Karagöz said. “It’s frustrating that the process is long, but it’s also good in that sense. No rash decisions are being made.”

William Sturkey, a history professor who was one of the professors who led the petition to get rid of the renaming moratorium, said he does not think renaming just for its own sake is ever enough.

“I think it’s an educational opportunity to help people understand how we got to this point in our society, and so through a renaming process, there should be some sort of educational component that clearly explains why a building is being renamed, who was the person that it was formerly named for, why was it named for them,” Sturkey said.

As far as the length of the renaming process, Sturkey said he knows UNC can do things quickly. 

“If our defensive coordinator quit tomorrow, we would have a replacement within hours,” Sturkey said. “So, it doesn’t make sense that it takes two years to consider renaming a building.”