Naming Committee discusses Douglas Hall

Corryn Brock, News Editor

The Naming Committee met to discuss their charge, methods of collecting feedback from constituents and future meetings Thursday afternoon.

University President David Glassman spoke to the committee to have a deeper conversation on what the committee’s charge is supposed to be.

Glassman explained the charge is meant to be deciding whether Eastern should continue to commemorate the 1858 debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas through the residence halls, rather than just changing the name of Douglas Hall.

He emphasized he didn’t want the change to be directly about Douglas Hall, but focusing on the debate and its historical ties. Glassman added that the committee may consider changing the name of Lincoln Hall if they choose to no longer commemorate the debate.

However, if the committee decides the name of the halls should change they are also asked to recommend a name for the change. If they decide the university should continue to commemorate the debate they may still recommend a name change to make the name more clear with a sign explaining the significance of the names or perhaps a name change that reflects that the halls are for the debate not for the individuals they are named after.

Glassman also shared some suggestions he has been given for name changes like changing it to be named after former President Barrack Obama, abolitionist Frederick Douglas, Eastern’s first Black student Zella Powell and Mjr. Charles Hall who attended Eastern and was a Tuskegee Airmen.

Glassman also explained who the constituents are in this case: current students, alumni, faculty, staff members, members of the Charleston community and annuitants.

The committee discussed how they planned to collect feedback from constituents and whether they would keep feedback anonymous. Another discussion was had on whether they would take into consideration what individuals share about their thoughts on changing or keeping the name or if they would just keep record of how many people were for and against a change.

The committee created a subcommittee to plan the methods of collecting feedback and storing that information. The subcommittee will consist of Claudia Danyi and Sace Elder.

The committee also spoke further about the history of Eastern discussing changing the name of Douglas Hall which was originally brought up ten years ago by former Eastern professor Christopher Hanlon.

Hanlon also spoke to the committee during public comment.

Hanlon discussed his thoughts on the significance of naming a building after someone.

“When you name a building after a historical figure you are not simply pointing out that this figure once existed, you’re saying you wish to honor this person,” Hanlon said. “You’re not saying that they were perfect, but you are saying here’s someone on balance, when you take the good with the bad is worth our praise.”

He added that the residence halls do not reflect the historical debate well but rather the two men they are named after.

“Both buildings tend to imply something like ‘here were two great Illinoisans, each of whom had some solid points to make, take your pick,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon referenced ex officio convener of the committee Ken Wetstein’s presentation of historical information of the naming of the residence halls as well and his own research into the original naming of the residence halls.

He described Eastern’s campus at the time of the naming.

“Six black students the year the building was being named. Editorials being published in the (Daily Eastern News) criticizing desegregation efforts,” Hanlon said. “Our first Black Homecoming Queen stripped of her title when a group of white students complained.”

He continued saying, “I would submit that the name of Douglas Hall is a remanent of that time.”

Hanlon added how directly tied to racism Douglas was.

“Douglas’s political style on the campaign trail and on the floor of the United States Senate was laced with foul-mouthed race baiting rhetoric. He exuded contempt for Black people and abolitionists and that’s why Frederick Douglass said, upon the Senator’s death in 1863, ‘no man of his time has done more to intensify hatred of the negro,’” Hanlon said. “That’s Frederick Douglass talking about the guy whose name adorns a dormitory on your campus.”

He said the renaming is now an issue bigger than the university.

“This is not some local issue anymore. It is not properly decided in light of local opinion or even student opinion. Since Eastern missed its chance to rename this building ten years ago, the University of Chicago has removed Doulgas’s name from one of its own buildings and a city park in Chicago has also been stripped of Douglas’s name. This is in keeping with renaming processes now underway around the county and the world. You could’ve led the way, but if you do not at least now follow in this context now, you dig in and insist on embracing Stephen Douglas you will distinguish Eastern as a place that is peculiarly determined to align itself with those who come to this issue from a place of resentment over critiques of historical racism, the Black Lives Matter Movement or Eastern’s own problematic record on race. Renaming is the default position. The easiest thing to do,” Hanlon said. “Not to do so now is to go out of your way in order to embrace Douglas and what he represents.”

Hanlon also offered suggestions for a rename, saying it does not matter as long as they denounce Douglas.

“I think you should name it for Obama, you should name it for Frederick Douglass, name it for that Homecoming Queen who lost her crown to a bunch of racists. Denounce Doulgas whoever you name it after and denounce the Eastern that once enshrined him,” Hanlon said. “Have that courage.”

The next meeting date is to be announced.

 

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