Vanderbilt University has announced plans to change the controversial name of one of its buildings on campus only days before students return for the start of the fall semester.
Vanderbilt changed the name of its “Confederate Memorial Hall” to read simply “Memorial Hall.”
Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said that after years of debate on the topic, the school made the decision to remove the word “Confederate” from the building’s name after the Charleston massacre occurred, during which gunman Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
“It really woke a lot of people up to the power of symbols and the nation’s past,” Chancellor Zeppos told NBC affiliate WSMV.
After an investigation into the incident uncovered photographs of Roof holding Confederate flags, a national debate on the issue arose, as well as a push to remove the flag from the state Capitol.
“Ever since I joined the Vanderbilt community in 1987, the residence hall bearing the inscription Confederate Memorial Hall has been a symbol of exclusion, and a divisive contradiction of our hopes and dreams of being a truly great and inclusive university,” Chancellor Zeppos said in an official letter regarding the resolution.
A $50,000 donation to the school in 1935 gave the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) the right to name the building. Efforts to rename the building in 2002 by the school in honor of war veterans were put to an end by the UDC, who wanted to keep the name as it was, reports Mia Hall for NBC News.
If the school wanted to change the name, they needed to return the original donation made in the amount it would be worth at the time of repayment, or $1.2 million dollars. Donors who wish to remain anonymous made these terms possible without touching the endowment.
Zeppos said that students, staff, and visitors have all made comments about a name change for the building for years. A number of town halls have continued the conversation over the last academic year as several other campuses have entered into similar debates, writes Tyler Kingkade for The Huffington Post.
“Written promises that ‘all are created equal,’ and that our Vanderbilt community embraces ‘we the people,’ gain legitimacy and power only when we take actions to ensure inclusion, not exclusion,” Zeppos said in the University statement.
In a similar scenario, students at Princeton University sought to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from one of the schools on campus due to a discussion pertaining to the former president’s racism. Yale University students looked to change the name of a residential college named after John C. Calhoun, a white supremacist. Meanwhile, Clemson University students vandalized a building named for US senator Benjamin Tillman, who had openly advocated for the killing of black men.
Vanderbilt University announced that it will not stop with the renaming of the building. Efforts to make changes toward racial reconciliation will continue. Zeppos said the school plans to start an annual conference on race, reconciliation, and reunion.