Community forum shows support for name change

Corryn Brock, News Editor

Eastern’s Naming Committee hosted a forum Thursday night to allow community members to voice their opinions on the questions of whether the university should retain the name of Douglas Hall or rename the building.

This was the fourth forum the committee has held on the matter this year. Previously the committee held forums for Eastern faculty, Eastern staff and current students; the next three forums will be focused on specific student groups.

During the community forum all but one individual spoke in favor of a name change, following the general trend of the previous forums. Twelve people spoke during the forum.

Brian Moushon, an Eastern alum now living in Georgia, shared that he was not in favor of a name change but said multiple times he was “on the fence” about the matter.

He shared he was concerned that the renaming could lead to other places on campus being renamed or removed, like portraits in the library.

Moushon said he disagreed with a description of those who oppose renaming Douglas Hall given by another individual who spoke during the forum.

“I am not, as one of the speakers talked about, the racist backwater and the P.R. disaster that this will create,” Moushon said

The speaker Moushon was referring to is Chris Hanlon, former Eastern professor and the person who originally brought the idea of renaming Douglas Hall to the Naming Committee in 2010.

Hanlon said when he came to Eastern in 2001 he was stunned to see a building named after Stephen Douglas.

“I knew the debate took place in Charleston and I knew the debate was important, but I didn’t see the building name as commemorating the debate because it doesn’t mention the debate, it mentions Douglas.”

He added that the building has not educated anyone on the debates, in his opinion, due to many people not knowing about who Douglas was or the debate.

Hanlon said the building appears to him to honor Douglas rather than educate people about him or his role in the 1858 debate with Abraham Lincoln that took place in Charleston.

“I think what you broadcast when you name one building Lincoln and the other building Douglas is basically ‘here are two prominent, important Antebellum men, take your pick,’’ Hanlon said. “And I don’t even know what it would mean to commemorate the debate, what, commemorate all of the debate? Even the terrible things that came out of the mouths of both men?”

Hanlon also spoke on those who argue in favor of retaining the name of the hall.

“I think there are a small minority of people who argue against renaming who are self-conscious racists and neo-confederates, I think there is a tiny sliver of that. I know Charleston well enough to know that. And I think there is another group that doesn’t grasp the facts and comes at this from a position of resentment of ‘woke culture’ or ‘cancel culture’ or something like that. But the main thing I think I see is fear. I think there are a lot of people at Eastern who realize this name is an embarrassment, it makes Eastern look like a racist backwater, it really does and it’s not a racist backwater. But I think there’s some notion that the people reject to renaming this building, the ignorant people, the resentful people, are an important constituency of Eastern and I don’t think that’s true.”

After the recent trends around the United States of no longer memorializing Confederate figures, Hanlon said he is worried of what the view of Eastern will be if the university does not rename Douglas Hall calling it a potential “P.R. disaster.”

JaDora Sailes Moore, a two-time Eastern alumna, said that she understood why the decision was made to name the buildings after the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Charleston, but said she does not believe much focus was put on what was said during the debate.

Moore also said Eastern needs to make a statement and rename the residence hall.

“We are advocates for social justice on the EIU campus, we embrace diversity and inclusiveness,” Moore said. “And the only way to send that message is to change the name, and whoever is chosen, whatever name is represented, certainly it should be someone that represents the cornerstone of our university, that being scholarship and service.”

Two directors of Eastern’s Alumni Association Board of Directors also spoke during the forum, both saying they were in favor of changing the name of Douglas Hall.

Marvinetta Woodley-Penn, a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, said she loves Eastern but many of her friends do not because of their experiences at Eastern. She specifically spoke on the vandalism of the sign for the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.

“I think it would be a great gesture to everyone that times are changing,” Woodley-Penn said.

She added that it should be a teachable moment for students.

Ted Gregory, another member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, spoke briefly but said he was in favor of changing the name.

“I came into this leaning towards changing the name but wanted to hear the discussion before I decided, and I haven’t really heard much in the way of a very persuasive argument to keep the name. I think it would be a great gesture to change it, whether it’s Frederick Douglass Hall or some other name,” Gregory said. “But I do think it’s important to send the right message that that name really has no place at an institution like Eastern Illinois.”

The next Naming Committee meeting will be March 31. Three forums remain: one for students affiliated with BSU, LASO, Alpha Psi Lambda, NPHC and/or NAACP on March 29 at 4 p.m., one for students affiliated with the Student Government, Interfraternity, PanHellenic Council on March 30 at 4 p.m. and one for students affiliated with the Residence Hall Association on April 1 at 5 p.m.

The committee also encourages engagement with its survey available at go.eiu.edu/EIUDouglasHallSurvey.

 

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