Student forum held on Douglas Hall name

Luke Taylor, Associate News Editor

Eastern’s Naming Committee held a forum on Tuesday evening for students to share their thoughts on whether the name of Douglas Hall should be changed.

Lincoln and Douglas Halls were named to commemorate the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, a series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas as they both campaigned to be elected as United States Senator from Illinois in 1858.

During that time and later in his political career, Douglas was known for his strong support of slavery.

The Naming Committee was first tasked with discussing Douglas Hall’s name in 2010 and has repeatedly chosen not to change the name. However, this is the first time that there wasn’t a specific suggestion for a new name; rather, the Naming Committee will be able to suggest a new name if they do recommend that it be changed.

Ken Wetstein, Claudia Danyi and Carlos Amaya moderated the student forum as representatives from the Naming Committee. April Marchuk, another committee member, was also in attendance.

Wetstein opened the forum by explaining where the name came from and the Naming Committee’s past decisions on whether to change the name, then opened the floor for input from students.

Zach Sandoval, a graduate student studying college student affairs, said that while the history of the Lincoln-Douglas debates is important, the name still should be changed due to negative connotations.

“I think it’d be kind of similar to a World War II hall, like ‘President Roosevelt and Hitler Halls’ or something,” Sandoval said.

Jason Boomgarden, a sophomore English education major, prepared for the forum by reading transcripts of some of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He read passages aloud to highlight the fact that both men involved in the debate had racist, pro-slavery positions at that time.

“The reason we’ve kept Douglas Hall the way it’s named has always been to honor the speeches that were made here, to honor the historic event,” Boomgarden said. “The content of that historical event doesn’t seem worth honoring in any way. It’s a debate in which both people hurled racism at each other at the expense of people of color in Illinois and across America and across the world. I think that it’s best that we change the name to honor someone worth honoring.”

Raven Ramsey, junior construction management major and resident of Douglas Hall, said that the name needs to be changed to follow Eastern’s push for diversity and progress.

“Diversity comes with honor. A lot of diverse individuals have gone through things in our history and this could be a first step toward change, you know, honoring the right people,” Ramsey said.

Josie Johnson, a grad student studying health promotions, is the current Associate Resident Director of Douglas Hall. She said that the fact that the name change had been requested so many times is a sign that it should be changed.

“I think there’s actually great gain for the university to put some action to their words, and it could be a great opportunity to honor somebody even from EIU history that our students could learn about and honor,” Johnson said.

Cloe Bourdages, a grad student studying college student affairs, said that the name should be changed to show support for students who live on campus.

“I don’t feel like those names really value EIU’s mission statement, especially when it comes to talking about the commitment to diversity and inclusion and fostering those opportunities,” Bourdages said. “I think it inhibits students’ success rather than enhances their success, especially athletes who are forced to live in residence halls associated with names and people who were completely against their identities.”

Brandy Matthews, a grad student studying college affairs, said that the name should be changed to reflect the changes that should be made in the community.

“If we really want to go forward upholding those views of diversity and being inclusive to all, it would be weird if they didn’t change the name,” Matthews said. “That means that they’re still big on racism and that they don’t see the need for change. I think that this would be a big movement to show that they are willing to change and be inclusive to all.”

The Naming Committee has more forums planned to discuss this topic, including a faculty forum, an open community forum, and several forums for specific student groups.

The community forum will be on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Zoom ID is 943 8017 6654, the password is EIU1895. All community members are welcome.

 

Luke Taylor can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]