Education

Students Successfully Convince Georgetown To Rename Buildings Named After Slaveowners

CREDIT: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Georgetown University will rename two buildings on campus — Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall — that are currently named after slaveowners, following protests and sit-ins from students demanding increased awareness about the institution’s racial legacy.

Georgetown students argue that the university needs to acknowledge the ways the university was built on slavery and to foster more discussion on the university climate for students of color. A group of 250 students recently gathered in solidarity with students at Yale University and the University of Missouri, who have also been asking their administrators to acknowledge a racist climate on campus.

Mulledy Hall was named after a Georgetown president, Thomas F. Mulledy, who sold hundreds of slaves to eliminate Georgetown’s debts. McSherry Hall was named after a Georgetown president, William McSherry, who advised on the sale and also sold slaves. While the university decides on new names, the buildings will use the interim names “Freedom Hall” and “Remembrance Hall.”

The Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation — a 16-member panel of administrators, students, and faculty appointed in September by Georgetown President John J. DeGioia — put together the recommendation for the name changes. This won’t be the end of the group’s work, since they will be hosting conversations on how to continue the work of acknowledging the university’s history of slavery this week and during the first week of December. They’re also working on a symposium for Emancipation Day on April 16, the day slavery was abolished in Washington D.C.

Of course, students are also acknowledging that discussions about race shouldn’t be confined to building names. Georgetown students have spoken candidly about what it means to be black on campus and to reside in Georgetown, where there was a recent controversy over the police and business improvement district’s partnership with the mass-messaging app GroupMe, which many business owners used for racial profiling against black customers.

Georgetown isn’t the only university where students are grappling with the history of some of the campus buildings. Students at Yale University have asked that buildings named after white supremacists and slaveowners be renamed.

In addition to these campaigns, there has been a recent wave of protests across the country demanding administrators do something about racist incidents on campus. At a small college in California, Claremont-McKenna, students protests along these lines led the dean of students to step down last week. Only days earlier, the president of the University of Missouri resigned from his position after failing to respond to several racist acts against students, including an incident where a student drew a swastika with feces in a university bathroom.

UPDATE JAN 8, 2016 12:00 PM

In an earlier version of this piece, there was a reference to Dartmouth College in the context of student protests against buildings with the names of slaveowners. Dartmouth College recently experienced protests by students of color in the school library but not in regards to campus building names in particular.

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