Students for Douglas Hall name change

Corryn Brock and Ryan Meyer

After several years of debate, University President David Glassman asked the University Naming Committee to readdress potentially change the name of Douglas Hall during a Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 11.

The topic has been addressed many times over past years, but the committee has always made the ultimate decision to keep the hall’s name.

The hall is named after Stephen Douglas to commemorate the debate between Abraham Lincoln and Douglas that took place September 18, 1858 in Charleston.

During the Sept. 11 meeting Glassman said the question his council had on the building’s name was “why?”

“Knowing that Stephen Douglas was an ardent racist and such a strong proponent of pro-slavery, the question for the president’s council was ‘should we have any building that has the name of an ardent racist in the forefront of that building, regardless as to what was the original intent,’” Glassman said.

Members of the board who spoke on the matter shared they felt it would be beneficial if the university changed the name.

Many students felt that the name change could be a good choice for Eastern.

Charles Taylor, a sophomore undecided major, said the high school he attended changed the name of wings because the actions of those the halls were named after were viewed as racist.

“I guess it’s a good thing. I didn’t know about that, I’m not really invested in the school naming things but I mean it makes sense. My high school renamed some of their wings because they figured out that they were named after racist men,” Taylor said. “It’s always good to show some type of support in the fight for equity and equality.”

Kristina Robinson, a sophomore communication disorders science major, said bringing the name change up fits well with recent events at Eastern and in Charleston.

“I think it’s a good step to be taken with the march and the protest, just slowly talking about it more, having those uncomfortable conversations and getting changes made,” Robinson said.

Kathya Munoz, a sophomore business management major, said in her opinion not changing the name would represent the school’s supporting Douglas’ beliefs.

“If we have it named after (Douglas) it means the school is representing that idea and we should be against that,” Munoz said.

Morgan Colvin, graduate student studying public administration and public policy, said the possibility of changing the name is a good first step.

“I believe that this topic has been a long debate and represents the change that is happening on campus,” Colvin said. “Before people called it ridiculous or not a big deal, those same groups now push to change it. So, change is happening on campus but in increments; more change needs to come.”

Regénte Myers, a broadcast journalism major, said knowing the man behind the building’s name makes her wonder about other buildings on campus.

“I think it should be renamed because knowing the history behind it, it makes you want to look at the history behind all the names,” Myers said.

A petition created over the summer asked the university to change the name, saying Douglas is remembered for “racist legislation that expanded slavery and destabilized the nation.”

Comments left by those who signed the petition that is currently at 1,051 signatures shared their thoughts on the hall’s name:

· “Both of my parents taught at EIU for decades. I earned an M. A. from EIU in History. To not change the name at this time is to be completely institutionally tone deaf. What possible reason could EIU have to continue to honor a racist and a slaveholder? What message does that send to the mostly young people that come to EIU? We cannot be proud to be part of the EIU alumni or community as long as Douglas Hall remains.” (Mary Barford)

· “Yikes. Imagine being an accredited institution in 2020 and not doing something as simple as changing the name of your building so you don’t honor some long dead racist asshole!” (Jaime Sparr)

· “One of the reasons I’ve chosen to attend EIU is because I believed it to be more inclusive and toward thinking than the town I’m from. Put your money where your mouth is and actually take action to include and listen to others voices.” (Killeen Reidy)

· “We need to honor the good people in our history. Let’s rename it after one of the many forgotten, black soldiers who fought for this country.” (Carol Thomas)

 

Some had ideas for what a new name for the hall could be.

Many have expressed that adding another ‘s’ to the end of the name to rename the hall after Frederick Douglass would be an easy change, while some feel that lacks action.

Lulu Shimonde, a senior psychology major, said the change could mean more than some realize.

“Why name it after a slavery supporter when you could name it after someone who survived slavery,” Shimonde said.

Taylor said Frederick Douglass is someone worth being remembered.

“I don’t see why that wouldn’t work,” Taylor said. “Frederick Douglass is definitely a notable person.”

Brianna Hull-Dennis, a sophomore communications major, had some ideas as to who the building could be renamed after, agreeing Frederick Douglass should be considered.

“Well I’m familiar with the name Douglas in relation to Lincoln and the debate style,” Hull said. “Perhaps they can use Frederick Douglass, Barack Obama or Angela Davis.”

Arielle Kindred, a junior psychology major, said the university should send a survey to students to see what they want done with the hall’s name and suggested they look into notable alumni.

Some students shared that they hope the university continues to have actions denouncing racist beliefs.

“I think to fix something like that, it is an easy enough fix but obviously there are a lot more steps to be taken too, like starting with the building is nice and everything but the name of a building won’t impact anything,” Robinson said.

She added she is currently working with other students to create a student organization called Students Together Against Racism and they hope to have an election day protest.

Myers said the university should involve RSOs in efforts against racism on campus.

Shimonde expressed hope that Eastern will continue to move forward with addressing racism and racist history on campus and not let opportunities to change pass them by.

“I think this university can do a lot better at supporting students of color, especially at times when troubling things are happening. Like first things first, just say Black Lives Matter,” Shimonde said. “Say that trans lives matter, say that Hispanic lives matter, these people’s lives matter and you recognize their struggles on campus because we are here and we are experiencing struggles so recognize there are students of color on campus who are struggling just being on campus in this town which is racist as hell. Support your students of color.”

Hull-Dennis said the name change would be symbolic but speak to the university’s beliefs.

“I think it’s more of a symbolic change than anything,” Hull-Dennis said. “Any decision to not make the change will ultimately speak to the university’s values because they have nothing to lose from making such a change.”

 

Corryn Brock and Ryan Meyer can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]