Naming Committee reviews Douglas Hall name replacements, talks next steps in process


Corryn Brock

Ken Wetstein, ex-officio convener of the Naming Committee, discusses what the next steps in the naming process will look like.

Corryn Brock, Editor-in-Chief

During the Naming Committee meeting Wednesday, Ken Wetstein, ex-offico convener of the committee and Vice President for University Advancement, informed the committee of University President David Glassman’s plans for the next steps in the process of potentially renaming Douglas Hall.

Currently, Glassman plans to include the renaming of Douglas Hall forward as a discussion item during the Board of Trustee’s committee meetings on Jan. 21, 2022 with the potential for the rename to be an action item of the board’s April 22, 2022 meeting.

Before the meeting Wednesday, members of the committee took on names to research and reviewed each of the six names, as well as two additional names that are up for consideration that would continue to be in honor of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Charleston, Lincoln-Douglas Debate Hall and Lincoln-Douglas Debate Memorial Towers (Liberty Hall and Justice Hall).

The names being reviewed included former Illinois Governor Edward Coles, former student athlete and Tuskegee Airman Major Charles B. Hall, former University President Louis V. Hencken, community members who assisted students with housing Ona and Kenneth Norton, Eastern’s first Black student Zella Powell and former life sciences professor and Director of Afro-American Studies William Ridgeway. Hencken was not thoroughly discussed by the committee due to him requesting his name be withdrawn from consideration.

The committee used Internal Governing Policy 148 to vet each of the names for fitness, which has six guidelines for naming university property:

  1. Personal, place or functional names may be recommended for facilities.
  2. The recommended name shall be logical in terms of the function of the facility.
  3. The recommended name shall have some significance to and meaning for constituencies served by the facility and/or significance to and meaning for the University as a whole.
  4. The recommended name shall be consistent with the guidelines provided in the Board of Trustees Regulations cited above.
  5. There shall be a relationship between the magnitude of the contribution of that person to the University and the facility–i.e., major building names should be reserved for those individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement and welfare of the institution.
  6. At least two years shall pass after the employee’s termination of regular employment, retirement, or death before consideration is given to naming a facility for that individual.

After coming to an agreement each of the individuals being considered for naming honors followed the guidelines, the committee discussed each individuals’ strengths and weaknesses as candidates for the name change.

Edward Coles

Coles, a former Illinois Governor, an anti-slavery advocate and Coles County’s namesake was one of two favorites for committee member Diane Burns.

Burns shared that she felt Coles was a strong candidate because of his work preventing slavery from being incorporated into Illinois.

Wetstein spoke to the difference between Stephen Douglas, Douglas Halls’ namesake and Coles’ political ideology.

“Coles himself was very anti-slavery and, in fact, politically opposed to much of what Stephen Douglas promoted during that same political period,” Wetstein said.

The committee also discussed Coles’ lack of connection to Eastern, which some felt was a non-issue and others felt was a negative.

Some members of the committee felt that the best candidate should have a strong connection with Eastern, but others felt him not having a direct connection to Eastern was not a problem considering that other buildings on campus are named after individuals who are not connected to Eastern, like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

Charles B. Hall

Hall, an Eastern alum and Tuskegee Airman who was the first Black American combat fighter to shoot down an enemy aircraft. He was also a member of the football and track teams while attending Eastern.

Several members of the committee shared that they felt like Hall’s many achievements added to his strengths as a candidate.

The committee also discussed Hall being a matriculate rather than a graduate as a potential weakness, but the committee’s main concern was the way the building would be referred to if it were to be renamed after Hall. It was indicated in the list original given to the committee by Glassman that if named after Hall, the building would be called Hall Residence.

“It’s just one of those clunky things … taking away that he’s matriculate, not graduate and the clunkiness of the naming convention, what an amazing person to have been connected with EIU, a great man,” Wetstein said.

Ona and Kenneth Norton

The Nortons were a couple who lived in Charleston and gave housing to Black athletes who could not live on campus. This started in their home and extended to four homes, two for men and two for women.

Members of the committee said they felt like the connection between the Nortons and housing would be fitting.

“There’s a real elegance to the idea that people who provide housing for students of color during that difficult period would have a residence hall bearing their last name today,” Westein said.

The committee said two potential downsides of naming the building is that Ona Norton has a scholarship named in her honor that already honors her legacy, as well as that Ona Norton attended but did not graduate from Eastern.

Zella Powell

Powell was Eastern’s first Black graduate in 1910 and went on to be an educator in Chicago. Additionally, she was the daughter of the first child born in Mattoon once it had become a town and a member of a Black pioneer family who helped establish Mattoon.

Powell was mentioned by multiple members as a favorite on the list.

Burns said she believes naming a building after Powell could serve as an inspiration to current students.

“I think that might be a good message to send along as well, to inspire our students to go on and pass their legacy to the other people in their families as well as the community,” Burns said.

Wetstein spoke on how rare it was for Black students to attend and graduate from predominately white institutions when Powell graduated.

“In relation to all of the past sins of our university when it comes to race, and there’s plenty, if you’re saying to me that we had a Black woman graduate from EIU in 1910, you probably can’t count more than three dozen colleges and universities in the country that would count among their alumni a Black woman that early,” Wetstein said.

When the discussion of potential downsides to naming the hall after Powell came up, committee member Angie Campbell asked if the university has ever named anything in honor of Eastern’s first graduate.

The first four graduates of Eastern were Marion Beeman, Guy Koons, Bertha Volentine (Ehlers), and Lloyd Goble. At the time of publication, nothing could be found that is named after those four individuals.

Aside from the discussion on Eastern’s first graduating class, no other points were made regarding potential downsides of Powell being considered for the name change.

William Ridgeway

Ridgeway was one of Eastern’s first Black faculty members and served as a zoology professor and as Director of Afro-American Studies.

Serving as Eastern’s third Black faculty member, Ridgeway was pivotal in the founding of the Zeta Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. on Eastern’s campus.

Committee member Mona Davenport said Ridgeway’s support of Black students did not stop at the founding of the fraternity, saying he had an impact on students of color as a whole from 1966 to 1995 when he retired.

“The one thing I can say about Bill was he probably had the most impact because of the years that he was here,” Davenport said. “He had the most impact on all of our students… he made it his thing to be very visible.”

Davenport added Ridgeway was likely going to be favorable as a candidate because of the amount of time he worked at Eastern.

Aside from Lincoln-Douglas Debate Hall and Lincoln-Douglas Debate Memorial Towers (Liberty Hall and Justice Hall), the committee also discussed the potential of naming the building Hall-Norton Hall after both Hall and Norton.

The committee agreed that it was both a positive and negative naming the building after two people, a negative because it watered down the naming honor and a positive because it honored two individuals.

“In the future years, it might be looked at as ‘Oh, well. They were lesser people that they had to put two people together in order to get a whole hall,’” Burns said.

The Naming Committee plans to meet next during the first week of the Spring 2022 semester to finalize a memo to Glassman to share their findings.


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