Slave Owners’ Names Are on Dorms at a SUNY School. That’s Changing.

Corina Knoll, New York Times, April 2, 2019

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{snip} The names of the other founders — all of whom were slave owners — have graced five other buildings at the college that was established in 1828.

Until now. After months of debate and discussion, all six buildings will be renamed in time for the start of the fall semester.

The school’s president, Donald P. Christian, said his decision to initiate the conversation that led to a recent vote grew out of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. {snip}

“The fact that these names were on residential buildings was one that we heard a lot from students — what it meant for them to be asked to live and eat and sleep in buildings that carried the names of slave owners,” Dr. Christian said.

The decision by SUNY New Paltz follows a recent wave of colleges grappling with troubling histories. Some schools have started projects specifically to explore their ties to slavery, publishing the findings online. {snip}

The chairman of SUNY’s Board of Trustees, H. Carl McCall, a former state senator and comptroller who was New York’s first black candidate to be elected to statewide office, applauded the decision by SUNY New Paltz to remove the slave owners’ names.

“They did participate in this terrible attack on humanity that is a part of our American heritage, and we have to do everything we can to talk about it and to take steps now to show that we do not accept it,” Mr. McCall said in an interview.

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The school established a diversity panel made up of students, faculty and staff members to explore the issue. The group held public forums, examined how other institutions have handled similar issues and researched local history, determining that the buildings were indeed named after the town’s founders and not their descendants.

N’della Seque, a 21-year-old senior and the president of the student association, said she was moved by the tearful pleas to change the names during forums run by the diversity panel. “That moment right there was what made me realize, ‘No, this has to change,’” she said. “I didn’t see it as erasing history. It was realizing what this history means to certain individuals.”

The panel ultimately recommended the name change, a decision that deeply offended some descendants of the founders.

“It’s unfair to project the moral standards of today onto those earlier generations,” said Robert W. Hasbrouck, 85, a ninth-generation descendant of an original settler.

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“Should we rename or tear down the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial? Where do we stop?” Mr. Hasbrouck asked. “We feel that it’s unjustified, it’s being done as an overeagerness to be politically correct.”

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The College Council passed the resolution to remove the names in a 4-to-3 vote in late February. The buildings will soon feature Native American names that reflect regional geographic features (Shawangunk Hall, Awosting Hall, Minnewaska Hall, Mohonk Hall, Ashokan Hall and Peregrine Dining Hall).

Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and a SUNY New Paltz graduate, said on Twitter that she was proud of the decision.

“This is what community accountability and cultural intelligence working together looks like in real time application. Proud of #SUNY,” Ms. Shabazz wrote.

The Huguenot names will not disappear altogether. The school is hoping to include them in a contemplative space where their contributions are recognized along with details about their slave ownership.

The town’s Huguenot historical society has made its own attempts to implement programming that honors the region’s authentic history. Although the town’s 14,000 residents are predominantly white, the society recently began hosting a celebration of African culture, music and food in honor of Juneteenth. It has also welcomed a member of the Slave Dwelling Project, a preservation organization that conducts overnight stays at sites associated with slavery.

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“Let the renaming of these buildings be one small step in the restorative justice this nation is seeking.”

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