The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Dormitory buildings lack identity, but no change anytime soon

<p>Workers cover up the sign for the building previously-named Thomas Hall on March 28.</p>

Workers cover up the sign for the building previously-named Thomas Hall on March 28.

Nineteen months ago, the University of Richmond removed six building names after years of pressure, with the two most controversial, named after a slaveholder and a eugenicist, driving the process. Now, as students continue to live and learn in these buildings, UR said the building names, such as Residence Hall No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 will remain.

“The University does not anticipate any further action in the near future concerning the buildings from which names were removed in March 2022,” wrote Cynthia Price, associate vice president of media public relations, in an email to the Collegian. UR continues to take requests to review building names, but has offered no update for the six building names since their removal.

Jasseim Konrad, a senior and head resident of Residence Hall No. 1, said that there should be some urgency to the names, though he acknowledges UR has higher priorities. 

“It doesn’t feel like [my] dorm has an identity,”  Konrad said. “It feels like it’s in a transitional period. The old name is still in the elevator.”

Recent Google Maps searches show a mix of updated names and outdated ones. “Ryland Hall” and “Sarah Brunet Hall” appear instead of their current names, while Fountain Hall and Residence Hall No. 1 are correctly displayed. Both “Residence Hall No. 3” and “Thomas Hall” appear for the same building, and no name appears on Residence Hall No. 2. 

Sophomore Grace Allen first learned about the building name controversy from her first-year orientation, she said.

“They had a whole presentation on it, with a 20-minute video that they had us watch,” she said. “That’s where I learned most of [what I know].”

Negative feedback from students caused that to be changed for this year’s orientation, said sophomore Kate Chasin, who was an orientation advisor. In place of the presentation was a program called Many Spiders, One Web: Building an Inclusive Community.

According to the orientation schedule, this focused on discussing “how the University of Richmond celebrates the diversity of our students’ lived experiences” and exploring how UR can “make sure everyone feels a part of our web.” 

“It was less intense for sure,” Chasin said. “Nothing really came up about the names being changed.”

She said orientation focused more on the positive strides UR has taken, and cut out a lot of information seen in previous years about its early history.

UR originally announced plans to keep the names of Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman on campus buildings in February 2021, despite reports confirming their controversial histories

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This decision was met with resistance from student groups, including the Black Student Coalition, who released a statement demanding the two building names be changed

BSC called for students to disaffiliate from university activities until the names were gone. They also made five other demands, including increased mental health services for Black students and a plan for an expansion of UR’s Multicultural Space. This group led a silent protest and a march across campus attended by faculty, staff and students, and created a petition that received over 1,200 signatures, according to the Collegian.

In April 2021, the Board of Trustees overturned what they had said was a final decision and announced that they would create a group called the Naming Principles Commission to create guidelines for the names of buildings and other honors, like professorships and programs, to follow. When the commission published their report 11 months later, the six buildings – including the ones named after Ryland and Freeman - were “de-named” in accordance with those principles.

The buildings were given replacement names to fill in the gaps. Ryland Hall, whose namesake, Robert Ryland, was the first president of Richmond College and who enslaved at least a dozen people. The place is now called the Humanities Building, after the departments in the building, which include history and English. 

Jeter Hall, Thomas Hall and Freeman Hall, residence halls named after two slaveholders - Jeremiah Bell Jeter and James Thomas Jr. - and Douglas Southall Freeman, a newspaper editor who advocated for eugenics and segregation, were given the names Residence Hall No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Nos. 1 and 2 received their names in reference to when they were the first two dormitories on UR’s new campus in the 1910’s, named Dormitory No. 1 and No. 2, according to Price. The Collegian could not find any explicit reason for the name Residence Hall No. 3.

Puryear Hall, which houses the education department, was renamed to Fountain Hall after the fountain in front of it. Puryear Hall was named after Bennet Puryear, a former professor who held a president-adjacent role in the late 1800’s. 

Sarah Brunet Hall was renamed The Refectory, which was the building’s original name from its construction in 1914 until the early 1920’s, when it served as a dining facility. The building was named after Sarah W. Brunet, who donated money and land to the university, including in her will when she died in 1888. Both Brunet and Puryear are documented as having been slaveholders, according to a document shared by the Board of Trustees.

Discussions about building names on campus started in 2019, when both Richmond College and Westhampton College’s student governments passed a joint resolution calling on UR to change the names of Ryland Hall and Freeman Hall because of their ties to white supremacy. When UR announced two years later they were keeping the names unchanged, many members of the campus community, like BSC, took it upon themselves to challenge this.

In March 2021, the Board of Trustees held two meetings, one with the Faculty Senate and another with members of the BSC and both student governments, to discuss the building names and campus reaction. During these meetings, the Board’s Rector, Paul Queally, discredited and interrupted a Black faculty member, and at one point said he wanted to help “Black, Brown and ‘regular students,’” -“regular” referring to white students.

In response, the faculty passed a motion of no confidence in Queally and called for his resignation from the Board. Queally remained on the board until June 2022, when he completed his term as rector as he had reached his term limit, according to the Collegian.

In April 2021, the board announced the creation of the Naming Principles Commission, which would be a group of faculty, staff, student and alumni representatives. They deliberated for a year, during which they drafted guidelines for UR to follow for future naming decisions. Meanwhile, students waited with few updates.

After receiving feedback from the campus community, including financing a campus-wide Gallup survey with over 7,200 responses, the commission published a report in March 2022 with detailed naming principles and a recommendation that six buildings be renamed. Within 24 hours of the public announcement of this report, work had started on replacing the names, including updating the buildings’ signage.

Still, UR is keeping open the idea of giving the buildings other names.

“It is possible that at some future time, the Board of Trustees may elect to rename some or all of those buildings,” Price wrote. 

Junior Marianne Alagos, a residence assistant in Residence Hall No. 1, said she thinks the buildings should be named in a way that’s easier for the students. 

“You want established names so we don’t have to constantly explain everything,” Alagos said.

Today, a typical first-year or sophomore – the only students required to live in the residence halls – were still in high school when the names were changed. 

Allen thinks the names are more of a problem with people older than her who keep up with the residence halls less. She lives in Residence Hall No. 2 and is not bothered by the name, she said. 

“Sometimes I talk [about my residence hall] to a senior, and they’re like, ‘which one was that again?’ And I’ll have to tell them it was Thomas [Hall],” Allen said. “It’s like a two-second interlude.”

Destinee Lee, a sophomore who lives in Residence Hall No. 1, said her building’s name can be inconvenient, recalling a time her aunt took her out for dinner.

“My aunt’s a professor here,” Lee said. “I told my aunt to drop me off outside of Residence Hall 1, and she had no idea where that was.”

Contact news writer Kieran Flood at kieran.flood@richmond.edu

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