Board of Trustees to hear update on Douglas Hall


Analicia Haynes

Eastern President David Glassman talks during an emergency Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday in the University Ballroom of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union. The meeting was live streamed to the public amid COVID-19 concerns and the photo is a screenshot of that livestream.

Corryn Brock, Editor-in-Chief

The Board of Trustees will receive an update from University President David Glassman on the Naming Committee’s recommendation to rename Douglas Hall Friday during their meeting at 1 p.m.

The Naming Committee made the recommendation to rename on April 23 after they were called together by Glassman nearly a year ago on Sept. 11, 2020. The decision to bring the committee together came after ten years of debate about it and two Naming Committees recommending retaining the name of Douglas Hall.

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.

When the Board originally discussed a potential name change in 2020, members who spoke publicly in the meeting on the matter spoke in favor of renaming the hall.

Board member Audrey Edwards said what may have been a small matter at the time the two original recommendations were made could be a bigger deal now.

“What seemed less important at that time is certainly at the forefront of people’s minds now, Edwards said. “I strongly believe that renaming the hall would be an expression of respect for the Black community that is very much needed at this point.”

Philip Thomas, another member of BOT, spoke on his personal experience with hearing people discuss changing the name.

“This is something that when I was a student, students on campus protested about,” Thompson said. “There’s not many opportunities we have to correct things that happened hundreds of years ago, so I think this is a great way for EIU to say we respect people of color, not just African American students but all people of color, and that we respect that the world is changing and we want to be on board with that.”

The majority of those who spoke at forums held by the Naming Committee showed support for a name change with few speaking in favor of retaining the residence hall’s name.

A survey conducted by the Naming Committee showed a majority in favor of renaming Douglas Hall with 606 saying they were in favor of renaming and 393 saying they were in favor of retaining the name. One person voted in favor of neither option to show their indifference to matter.

The Daily Eastern News requested the raw data from the survey via a Freedom of Information Act request to show the reasoning given for both sides of the argument.

Of those in favor of retaining the name of the hall, some left explanations for why they felt the name should remain the same:

“As a student who lived in Douglas Hall, and lived in the Stevenson Lincoln Douglas complex, I always thought of how cool it was to recognize men who debated the issues and served their country to represent the people of Illinois. One became president, another ran for president and Douglas debated Lincoln with the concerns of the people of the state and the nation…. it is our history…. our background… to jump on this background and change because it’s the “woke” thing to do is a rush to judgement and doesn’t allow the next generation to recognize the original reason why those and all of the other dorms and halls were named.  We renamed the student center to recognize Martin Luther King… that was a proper renaming at the time….. but who knows in 100 years.”

“You CAN NOT erase History. They were named for the debate in Charleston. Leave it alone and quit acting like a bunch of idiots. Yes I am a college grad and I called you idiots. When letting the entire college board be swayed you are idiots.”

“I chose the answer I did because there is no reason to change the name. A few crybabies are trying to ACT like they are offended. I don’t believe anyone is actually offended. It’s nothing more than the normal “look at me” agenda. It’s an attention getting ploy.”

“I believe that this name and the debate that Douglas Hall is commemorated for is of historical relevance to the city of Charleston, and the name should be retained. While in today’s climate, having a building named after a proponent of slavery might be viewed as insensitive, I think that it is a slippery slope to make these decisions without consideration of the historical context in which they occurred. History is often erased by conquering factions, and perhaps if these trends continue in our country, we may find ourselves in an America that has a vastly different rendition of history than what is factually accurate.”

“The university should retain the name Douglas Hall because it shows the history of Charleston, Illinois. Only 7 Illinois towns had the honor to hear the Lincoln-Douglas debates. By changing the name of Douglas Hall, you are essentially erasing an important part of history in this town. It should be an honor that the city of Charleston was able to hear the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and therefore should retain the name of Douglas Hall, regardless of Douglas’ ideologies. By changing the name of Douglas Hall, we are not learning about why his ideologies are wrong. We are just learning that it is easier to “cancel” something rather than to educate ourselves so that history does not repeat itself.”

Similarly, those in favor of renaming the building left their opinions:

“For similar reasons we do not make statues of the losers of war we should not name an important building that many students live in after someone who argued for the ownership of humans as private property. To use Douglas’ name is to honor him and that should not be the case.”

“There are so many incredible black and African American students who pass through the institution, it would be in extraordinarily poor taste to continue to uphold the memory of a person who fought continuously to keep them enslaved. I also believe you should consider renaming Lincoln Hall, as well. Lincoln was just as racist as his opposition. He wanted to and tried to send all of the slaves back to Africa as he did not believe in their equality, either. As an institution of education, it is imperative that the institution be forward thinking to help propel its students into the future by not reminding them of the horrors of the past. We can honor all EIU alumni and future students by honoring those who actually fought for justice and lived and breathed their purpose. Please sincerely consider renaming at least Douglas Hall and start working to truly provide antiracist and inclusivity in the University and not just on a name placard.”

“Having a hall that honors the racist and slave owner Steven Douglas does not represent the values of diversity and inclusion that EIU is built on. We should be recognizing people of color who had a major positive impact instead of honoring someone who held the backward and racist standards that we as a country are continuing to fight against to this day. By keeping the name, EIU must acknowledge that they are not focused on diversity; instead, they are focused on tradition for tradition sake which does not represent its student body.”

“I feel that Stephen Douglass was not as historically important, even in Illinois history, as some people have tried to make it sound like. I also wish to honor the Native Americans who first lived in Illinois to begin with, especially with how some of the tribes in Oklahoma have been giving their vaccines out to others in a selfless act.”

“EIU promotes diversity to get students to attend EIU, but doesn’t show that same energy when minority students are on campus and attending classes. This shows that they don’t really care about diversity or minority students. If they truly do care, they need to show it and they can start by changing the name of Douglas Hall to something that doesn’t promote slavery and racism.”

According to a press release from Eastern, Glassman received the recommendation from the Naming Committee in May and will now share that recommendation with the Board.

The Board of Trustees makes the final decision to rename buildings on campus with recommendations from the sitting university president.

If the Board were to decide to vote on changing the name and voted in favor of the change, the Naming Committee would likely be brought together once again to find a new name for the residence hall.

Copy of EIU-Douglas Survey Data 4-12-2021

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