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UO may rename buildings named after racists: Black students say that’s not enough



A previous version of this article stated that UO would rename buildings named after people connected with racism; UO is simply reviewing buildings for renaming. Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article also incorrectly linked Deady with the group The Secret Knights of the Golden Circle, a precursor to the Klu Klux Klan. There is no evidence for the link. The article has also been updated with more details of Deady’s life and attitudes toward race. 

All University of Oregon buildings, including Deady Hall, named after individuals with racist pasts will be reviewed for renaming this year. This is only one request out of 12 on the UO Black Student Task Force’s letter to the administration, written on Nov. 17 in part response to the protests at the University of Missouri.

Across the nation the renaming of racism-related university buildings is leading in the Black Lives Matter movement, including Princeton University and Duke University.

At a Nov. 20 event leading in a discussion on racial equity, UO President Michael Schill said the administration’s first step in addressing the list of demands will be to change the names of buildings with racist roots.

Two of the buildings named by Schill at the event were Deady Hall and Dunn Hall, a segment of the Hamilton residence hall. Dunn Hall is named after Frederick Dunn, UO Latin professor and chairman of the Latin Department from 1898 to 1935. Dunn was reportedly the leader of Eugene’s branch of the KKK, according to Associated Press.

Deady Hall was the first building on the University of Oregon campus. Matthew Deady, the hall’s name sake, was Oregon’s first federal judge and a played a significant role in the formation of the university in 1876. Deady selected the UO’s motto (Mens Agitat Molem, or “mind moves the matter”) and served as president of the board of regents.

Deady had a complicated history with race.

When he served as the president of the Oregon Constitutional Convention, an 1857 assembly that gathered to write Oregon’s constitution, Deady was in support of slavery. Later on in his career, however, he renounced his views and adopted a more progressive stance on race. Deady protected Chinese-American rights, specifically when he summoned a grand jury to indict anti-Chinese protesters for violent acts.

At the Dec. 4 Board of Trustees meeting, alumnus Scott Bartlett asked the board not to change the name of Deady Hall, specifically because Deady “fought like hell” for the lives of Chinese people in Oregon.

“[The] history of this beautiful institution has deep roots,” Bartlett said. “His legacy — Deady’s legacy— has to count for something.”

The movement to change the names of buildings is also taking place outside the university. Jenoge Khatter, a United States history teacher at Roosevelt Middle School and UO doctoral candidate, has pushed for renaming Roosevelt this year. There are plans to tear the building down, making this a good opportunity to rename it, Khatter said.

The school is named after former United States president Theodore Roosevelt, who was also known as a white supremacist and imperialist. Khatter said African-American poet Maya Angelou is a more than suitable namesake for the new building, as Angelou’s values reflect the community’s.

“It’s important that public buildings should reflect the diversity of people they serve with their names in terms of gender, race and linguistic representation,” Khatter said. “Names are inherently political, as they reflect some narratives but not others.”

Khatter said it is important to recognize when an organization like UO or the Eugene School District is symbolically amplifying or silencing narratives through names.

Schill said the growing activism at UO has brought administrative focus to diversity in and outside of the classroom. But he is careful with his promises.

“We really feel our students want to see progress on this,” Schill said. “I haven’t promised what [else] we are going to do on the list, but most things are reasonable.”

But at a roundtable with black students and Board of Trustees members on Dec. 4, Jaleel Reed, a BSTF member, said the task force expects UO administration to address each of the 12 demands. The sixth demand, highlighted during the conversation, asks UO to “commit to hiring an African-American advisor/retention specialist as well as Black faculty across all academic disciplines.”

“This demand is of particular importance because the number of black faculty, as well as the number of black students at this institution, are integral to making this institution an environment where black students can succeed,” Reed said.

What the UO’s commitment looks like is acknowledging that minority communities’ needs are a priority, Reed said. The BSTF feels it’s necessary to have a written, tangible commitment of funds toward addressing the needs of black students.

Brown University, which has committed at least $100 million to meeting diverse needs, is an example of a university that has made an effort to address the needs and concerns of students of color, Reed said.

“A comparable commitment has not yet been made at the University of Oregon,” Reed said. “As it pertains to our demands, we know that it is possible for private donors to contribute funds to assist in covering costs.”

The conversation around the breakfast table regarding the change of KKK-related building names only lasted for about two minutes: black students put more emphasis on the other parts of their letter.

“I shouldn’t feel like [by] going to classes, I am being a burden,” Denisa Clayton, another BSTF member, said.

Trustee Ann Curry said a young woman she talked to at the breakfast told her the first time she knew she was black was when she arrived at UO.

“One percent [faculty of color at UO] does not represent what we have here in Oregon,” Curry said. She said based on national numbers, UO should have 12 percent faculty of color.

Trustee Kurt Willcox said the lack of diversity has been a problem ever since he was at UO in the 1960s.

“It’s a terrible situation that this all still exists years later,” Willcox said.

The renaming of KKK-affiliated buildings is set to be finished by the end of the year, but Schill said the administration might not be able to fulfill all of the BSTF’s requests.

As much preoccupation as there is about UO’s racist past, most black students who spoke out were concerned with UO’s racist present.

As a senior in the Oregon MBA program within the Lundquist College of Business, Patrice Bishop-Foster said she has been through several situations in the program that led to a shaming process both in the classroom and through emails.

“Above all else, we need people who care,” Bishop-Foster said, “because if you don’t care you’re not going to make any changes.”

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Olivia Decklar

Olivia Decklar