How Does a College Decide Whether to Change Its Name?


On Monday, a committee at Dixie State University suggested altering the organization’s name to Utah Polytechnic State University, the most recent action in an unpleasant procedure to distance itself from its 100-year association with “Dixie,” which stimulates the slaveholding South.

More than 2,000 miles away, in Lexington, Va., Washington and Lee University’s board chose this month to keep the college’s controversial name, ending– in the meantime– a filled dispute over whether the 272-year-old organization need to continue to honor Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who defended the reason for slavery.

Elsewhere in Virginia, 3 neighborhood colleges have actually chosen to relabel themselves, disavowing their association with historic figures who oppressed individuals or held racist views. Two other schools at first stated they didn’t wish to alter their names, however under pressure from the state community-college board, they’re reevaluating.

The choices are the conclusion of a year’s worth of job forces, studies, and testy neighborhood online forums triggered by an across the country numeration with racial oppression. Last summer season, colleges throughout the nation dealt with calls to cut ties with historic figures or signs that embodied bigotry in some method. For a couple of organizations, the needs were more existential– since their very names honor those figures or signs.

Many colleges have actually removed names from school structures since they commemorated questionable elements of U.S. history. But in fact relabeling a college is more complex.

The disputes weighed donor needs and political pressures, neighborhood pushback and professors belief. All of the colleges were driven to honor their institutional history and do what’s finest for trainees. That’s simpler stated than done.

‘Pressure to Sanitize’

At Washington and Lee, the accessory to Lee’s name is rooted in a glamorized variation of Southern history, stated Alison Bell, an associate teacher of sociology: the perfect of the Southern gentleman, the power of the Southern upper class, the story of the worthy states combating so-called federal overreach throughout the Civil War.

“There is something unique about Lexington and Washington and Lee that’s going to make it really hard to sincerely break our relationship with the Confederacy,” Bell stated.

Lee, who ended up being the university’s president after the Civil War and reversed its monetary chaos, is deeply woven into the material of the school. Lee’s name has actually been on the organization given that 1870. (The name likewise honors George Washington, who oppressed individuals, however the current name dispute has actually mainly concentrated on Lee.)

The Confederate basic is buried on school, as are members of his instant household, underneath the chapel that long bore Lee’s name. In the chapel, Lee includes more plainly than Christian iconography does. The 1969 book narrating the history of Washington and Lee is called General Lee’s College.

Nearly 80 percent of Washington and Lee professor supported a resolution requiring Lee’s name to go. So did the trainee federal government. Supporters of a name modification stated that the outright association with Lee stank to trainees and staff members of color, and would render the university unimportant in a quickly diversifying world.

But the opposition was high. The Generals Redoubt, a group of alumni that professes to eliminate “blind conformity with the nationally prevailing political and university culture,” campaigned passionately versus a name modification. “Retain the Name” banners appeared on school and throughout the city ofLexington More than 200 moms and dads sent out a letter to the Board of Trustees stating that altering the name would be “a threat to current financial support and to untold future contributions.”

The moms and dads likewise alerted about “the deleterious name change movement” in their letter: “We realize that many institutions are feeling enormous pressure to sanitize their histories, but they do so at the peril of erasing what makes their character unique. Don’t let this happen to Washington and Lee.”

The trustees stated they discovered “no consensus” on whether altering the name would put the university on a much better course forward. “Each of us wants what is best for our university, but there are honest disagreements about how to pursue it,” stated Will Dudley, the university’s president, in a declaration to the school.

The board rather voted to make a $225-million financial investment– mainly from fund raising– in trainee assistance and scholarships, and to “make important symbolic changes on campus,” such as revamping the university’s diploma and rechristening Lee Chapel as University Chapel.

But for some, those shifts sound hollow without renouncing the greatest sign of them all: Lee’s name on the university. “They really can’t get past this part of their history,” stated Ty Seidule, an emeritus history teacher at the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, N.Y., and a 1984 graduate of Washington and Lee.

Seidule, who teaches at Hamilton College, is author of Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning With the Myth of the Lost Cause, released in January, in which he discusses declining his longstanding respect of the Old South and Lee himself. Seidule is unfortunate about the trustees’ choice since he thinks the university has actually altered a lot in current years, ending up being more academically extensive.

“It’s no longer General Lee’s College — it isn’t,” Seidule stated. “But it’s hard for people who are my age and older to let go of that name.”

In completion, the point of views of rich alumni and moms and dads who opposed altering the name triumphed. As a personal organization, Washington and Lee relies greatly on philanthropy. “The loudest voices,” Bell stated, “are the people with the deepest pockets.”

The university’s board acknowledged that the anticipated monetary expense of altering the name “would be substantial.” In a question-and-answer post, the trustees discussed their obligations “as fiduciaries of the university.” Continuing as Washington and Lee, they stated, would make sure that the university had “the greatest potential to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.”

Bell stated she was shocked that even 6 of the 28 trustees enacted favor of altering the name. Yet she thinks that modification is unavoidable, even if it’s sluggish. In the latter half of the 20th century, as a lot of colleges started confessing ladies, Washington and Lee withstood. Then, in 1991, Bell finished in among the university’s very first co-ed classes. “Washington and Lee is not going to change for ethical reasons,” she stated. “They’re going to change because they get so embarrassed — because they’re so behind the times.”

Question of Relevance

Last summer season, Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges directed its colleges to evaluate the suitability of their names. “Are the names that were put on these community colleges — are they still relevant to the community that they serve?” stated Douglas M. Garcia, a state board member who will quickly end up being vice chair.

Garcia, a community-college graduate and a previous assistant secretary of education in Virginia, would rather be speaking about the state’s G3 Initiative– “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back”– which covers community-college tuition for low-income trainees making qualifications in high-demand fields. But names matter too, he stated.

The community-college system has 23 schools. Most are called for their geographical locations. But 5 are called for individuals who oppressed others or upheld racist views: John Tyler, Lord Fairfax, Thomas Nelson, Patrick Henry, and Dabney S.Lancaster The state’s two-year colleges are fairly young, primarily established in the 1960s, and do not have close ties to those historic figures.

The initially 3 chose to alter their names. “It is no longer enough to talk about our college’s commitment to equity,” composed Edward Raspiller, president of John Tyler Community College, in a July 2020 message to the school. “We must take responsibility and enact change to ensure that commitment is a reality for our employees, students and community.” The college was called for the 10th U.S. president, who oppressed individuals.

A school job force at the Richmond- location college all suggested altering the name inNovember When revealing the choice, Raspiller composed that honoring Tyler is “in direct conflict with our mission, vision, and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.”

Lord Fairfax Community College, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has actually proposed Laurel Ridge as its brand-new name, stating it honors the location’s natural charm and “the positive spirit and can-do attitude the college embraces.” The state board will vote on the name next month.

At Thomas Nelson Community College– likewise called for a slaveholder– staff members extremely supported altering the name, according to a school study, while regional citizens in the city of Hampton, Va., practically all opposed it. In a 2nd study, about half of trainees supported a modification. A regional board member warned versus drawing a lot of conclusions from the information, stating the student-focused study had a low action rate, according to the Daily Press.

Local opposition to modifications was the primary factor that the regional boards of the other 2 colleges– Patrick Henry and Dabney S. Lancaster– at first voted to maintain their names. Henry, the very first guv of Virginia, enslaved individuals. Lancaster was a state education superintendent who opposed incorporating Virginia’s schools. (Dabney S. Lancaster Community College is near Washington and Lee.)

The school calling committee at Patrick Henry– situated in rural southwestern Virginia– recommended including a hyphen to show that the college’s name shows the 2 counties it serves, Patrick and Henry, and not the previous guv. (The counties themselves are called for Patrick Henry.) But the college’s board voted that concept down, choosing to keep the name undamaged since it’s what regional citizens desired. One board member stated “it’s a fight worth fighting,” according to the Martinsville Bulletin.

Then, last month, the state community-college board passed a brand-new identifying policy, which requires names to “reflect the values of inclusive and accessible education” and line up with a “special emphasis on diversity, equity, and opportunity.” Given those directing concepts, the board directed the 2 colleges to “reconsider.”

As Patrick Henry’s board chair sees it, the brand-new policy was a required. “The state board carries the sole authority to decide the names of Virginia’s community colleges, and they are expecting us to recommend a new name, and if we do not recommend a new name, then they will select one,” Janet Copenhaver, the chair, informed the Martinsville Bulletin.

In the calling procedure, Garcia stated “it’s up to the institution” to choose a name, and after that the state community-college board authorizes it.

The state board acted in action to an across the country racial numeration after George Floyd’s murder. But their primary objective in evaluating institutional names was to focus on trainee success, Garcia stated. The community-college system registers a a great deal of trainees of color, and its brand-new tactical strategy positions a strong focus on variety and equity and on enhancing graduation rates for underserved neighborhoods, he stated.

Garcia stated the modifications were likewise a crucial chance for a few of the schools to rebrand: “What do we really want to be known for?”

‘Utah’ s Dixie’

When individuals very first hear the name “Dixie State University,” they typically believe it should be found in theDeep South In truth, the “Dixie” term is a popular cultural part of southwestern Utah, an area referred to as “Utah’s Dixie.” It celebrates the Mormon leaders who were contacted us to Utah to grow cotton by Brigham Young, the renowned 19th-century leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints.

Rick Bowmer, AP

Two ladies oppose the name-change proposition at the Utah State Capitol in February.

But beyond Utah, when some potential companies see “Dixie State” on a résumé or application, they’re shocked. Richard B. Williams, Dixie State’s president, stated he’s spoken with alumni that, throughout interviews for graduate school or medical school, they’re needing to respond to concerns– specific or suggested– like: “Why is there a university named ‘Dixie’ in Utah? Is it a racist university? Is it a white-supremacist university?”

There’s other proof that the name is holding the university back, Williams stated, keeping in mind that a community-college system in a nearby state that he decreased to determine will not sign a contract with the organization unless the name modifications.

The name likewise does not show the university’s revamped identity, Williams stated. It has actually included 112 scholastic programs in the previous 5 years. Dixie State’s tactical strategy requires a focus on STEM fields, experiential knowing, and market collaborations. Williams stated he wishes to be clearer with potential trainees about where Dixie State is and why they need to enlist. Dixie State’s relabeling committee stated on Monday that “Utah Polytechnic State University” does simply that.

The Utah Legislature has the sole authority to alter the names of public universities. Dixie State was the most fiercely objected to concern of the last legal session, Williams stated, and lots of legislators were hesitant. But they wanted to support legislation that would check out the possibility of a name modification and obtain more neighborhood feedback.

In St George, Utah, the calling dispute has actually ended up being heated and psychological. According to a research study on the Dixie State name, commissioned by the university, individuals outside the state– consisting of more youthful alumni and university employers– were far more most likely to support a name modification. Some regional citizens felt that outsiders were calling the shots, which the growing public university was attempting to avoid its roots. There were lots of allegations of “cancel culture.”

“We don’t feel like we’re canceling our past,” Williams stated, keeping in mind that the university would continue to honor its history no matter what. “We feel like we’re celebrating our past, but moving forward into a very exciting future.”

Philanthropy is on Williams’s mind, however it hasn’t swayed the university’s decision-making, he stated. In the university’s name research study, two-thirds of alumni who finished prior to 2009 stated they would stop supporting the university economically if the name was altered. Williams stated he’s likewise heard that straight from lots of private alums. Then he searched for whether they ‘d ever offered to the university. Nine times out of 10, they had not.

Over the previous year– when the prospective name modification was the primary subject of discussion on school– fund raising in fact increased by 43 percent, Williams stated.

“Fund raising is not going to hold us up from doing the right thing,” he stated.

The fundamental element for altering Dixie State’s name is that trainees and alumni see it as a prospective barrier, Williams stated. According to the university’s research study, 22 percent of current Dixie State graduates stated a potential company had actually revealed issues about the name. Nearly half were worried that having “Dixie” on their résumé would trigger an issue.

“Any president does not aspire to change the name of a university,” Williams stated. But he does not desire his trainees to need to invest their time discussing what “Dixie State” implies any longer.

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