The debate over the permanence of names is raging throughout the country, as well as within the University of Oregon community. In recent weeks, UO has announced the denaming of longstanding Deady Hall along with a collaborative decision between UO and Oregon State University to change the name of the century-plus-long rivalry game. To some, altering the names of structures or events erases meaningful history. To others, UO structures named after controversial historical figures or events do not accurately represent the values UO claims to hold.
Each generation forms novel standards for how society should operate, leaving past generations and the history that accompanies them outdated. This is absolutely the case for UO, as the current UO community has continuously advocated for the alteration of structures which carry the names of past figures that no longer represent the university’s values.
For instance, I see no room for the celebration of a racist judge who actively supported slavery and Oregon’s exclusion of free black people. Matthew P. Deady in no way symbolizes a culture that I have any desire to celebrate Nor do I feel statues commemorating the White colonization of Indigenous lands have any place in the UO community. Although one could argue that the term ‘civil war’ does not solely refer to the American Civil War, I see no issue in changing the name of this rivalry. In a recent tweet from Oregon Football’s account, legendary UO alums emphasize that ‘the name is not the game,’ a sentiment I both encourage others to consider and one that I agree with.
UO’s recent willingness to change controversial names and to collaborate with other state entities such as OSU could indicate a trend toward changing for the better. Although the changes are undoubtedly positive, UO’s motivations behind the alterations are questionable. Advocacy for the denaming of Deady Hall is not novel, as UO’s Black Student Task Force included renaming Deady Hall in a list of 12 demands given to UO administration in 2015. This suggests to me that UO is primarily offering these symbolic concessions to save face. Genuine interest in improving its community for all students, mainly students of color, would have resulted in this particular change happening five years ago.
Continuous evolution is necessary, yet it also must incorporate room for growth. Sadly, we live in a nation founded on ideologies and institutions created to oppress certain groups, and undoing systemic racism and discrimination takes time, especially when influential government figures and institutions do not seek change. It is imperative to continue to grow and to curate a more accepting and inviting UO community, despite the systemic challenges state institutions must overcome.
The title of a building or event may seem trivial, but if names celebrate racist historical figures, they simply need to go. If UO is to actively improve its community by welcoming all students and staff, it needs to prove that its motives go beyond image preservation by actually listening to its community and to welcome improvements when made aware of glaring issues.