Eastern’s Naming Committee has concluded its seven forums dedicated to hearing opinions on the potential renaming of Douglas Hall.
The forums showed a strong interest in renaming the hall, with few speaking in favor of retaining the name.
The forums do not account for the opinions collected by the Naming Committee in the form of a survey.
The survey can be found at go.eiu.edu/EIUDouglasHallSurvey and everyone connected to Eastern is encouraged to participate in the survey.
Douglas Hall is named after Stephen Douglas. The hall was named in tandem with Lincoln Hall, named after Abraham Lincoln.
The halls were named in 1952 to commemorate a debate between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858 as a part of a series of debates around Illinois.
Douglas was a proponent to slavery and is thought to have built his career on his support for slavery.
Renaming the hall has been discussed since 2010 when it was first brought to the Eastern Naming Committee. This is the third time the committee has addressed the naming.
When University President David Glassman began restaffing the Naming Committee in the Fall 2020 semester he said the committee was being brought together once again following a summer full of racial injustices being addressed across the nation.
“This is an issue that has been discussed and evaluated and debated for about a decade now and we’ve had two major university reviews of a potential name change and then during course of the summer there obviously has been a great deal of additional awareness and the whole nation is grappling with the issues of systematic racism and differential social justice and discrimination based on one’s race and while the president’s council was working all summer primarily on COVID-19 return to campus plans, this issue kept coming up for us in our discussions and we felt the time is now to really evaluate it again under the new light, under the current awareness’s that are taking place across our nation,” Glassman said.
Many cited the summer of protests against racial inequalities as the main reason the university needed to rename Douglas Hall. Others said the names hold a historical significance that should not be forgotten by changing the name.
Glassman said he could understand both sides of the debate.
“The debate continues on because both sides have valid opinions, valid positions but this time I want it to be evaluated rather by the point of EIU’s mission, our values, our commitment to inclusion and have that as a meaningful part of the discussion instead of just the debate,” Glassman said.
The reasons behind the attendees’ answers in the forums varied but most came back to one conclusion; change the name of Douglas Hall:
“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,” Raven Ramsey, junior construction management major and resident of Douglas Hall said March 23 during the all-student forum.
“I think that the debates are commemorated here. They’re commemorated at the fairgrounds, we have those statues of Lincoln and Douglas debating that appear in the other debate cities as well with a museum, with a plaque that really does a great job of contextualizing and dealing honestly with them,” Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, associate professor of history, said on March 24 during the all-faculty forum. “So I don’t think that they also need to be commemorated on campus.”
“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,” Ted Gregory, member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors said on March 25 during the community forum. “But I do think it’s important to send the right message that name really has no place at an institution like Eastern Illinois.”
“This shouldn’t even be a thought when your student body is saying ‘we don’t want this anymore’ it shouldn’t really matter what the community says,” Christian Watson, a freshman Spanish education major and member of Alpha Psi Lambda, said during the forum for select student groups on March 29. “…The school should be able to adapt and adjust based on the current body and the needs and concerns of the student now.”
“Changing the hall name is just common sense. The last thing that any of us want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome,” Justin Richards, a senior digital technology major and student vice president of Academic Affairs said during a forum for select student groups on March 30. “EIU has the phrase ‘All In.’ We’re told EIU is all in… “We shouldn’t be promoting anyone who has negatively affected any population.”
“In my opinion, public memory changes all the time, we know that. There’s no one alive today that has a personal connection to the debates so it’s very far from public memory so I feel like it’s something that should be memorialized and kept in a museum as it was an event in which two racist white men argued over their racist beliefs while a racist crowd cheered them on,” Ben Drake, national communications coordinator for the Residence Hall Association and history education major, said during a forum for members of the Residence Hall Association on April 1.
Moving forward, the Naming Committee will take all of the information available to them and come to a final decision on whether they will support renaming or retaining the name of Douglas Hall.
The committee will then make a recommendation to Glassman and the Board of Trustees who will ultimately decided what will happen to the name of Douglas Hall.
Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]