Here at the State University of New York at New Paltz we pride ourselves as a progressive community of activists, preaching the perils of complacency. As Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, “Perhaps it is impossible for a person who does no good to do no harm.”
On Thursday, Nov. 1, the College Council voted to postpone the resolution to rename the Hasbrouck Complex Buildings until its next meeting in the spring semester because some of the council members felt they needed more time to consider the propostion.
The resolution to remove and replace the Huguenot patentee names from the Hasbrouck Residential Complex buildings (including Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois, Hasbrouck and LeFevre) has the unanimous support of the student government, faculty senate, senior leadership of college and President Donald P. Christian.
Student objection to the building names reflect a national debate about whether Confederate flags and statues of Confederate leaders from the Civil War era should be removed from public places in the South that erupted after a counterprotestor was killed in a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA on Aug. 12, 2017. Later that same month, the college’s Diversity and Inclusion Council was tasked with investigating these objections coinciding with the national discourse and conflict about statues and building names on other college and university campuses.
After a year-long evaluation the Diversity and Inclusion Council concluded that these names should be removed and replaced. The “Hasbrouck Building Complex Renaming Dialogue Report and Recommendation” outlines the research of Council members who looked into how the buildings were named, the results of surveys which showed that students did want to see a change, a historical overview of slavery in New Paltz and previous conversations regarding building names.
The investigation was launched in response to an outpour of student voices who felt that residential buildings continuing to be named after slave owners is problematic and perpetuates the legacy of slavery.
We at The New Paltz Oracle find the decision to postpone the vote further both irresponsible and inconsistent with our college’s values. In addition to prolonging harm done as expressed by the student body, we feel that this failure to uphold our community and university’s progressive reputation is an embarrassment to our university morally, historically and pedagogically in an era of increased pressure for social change.
To change the names of the Hasbrouck buildings would not erase history, but instead acknowledge a part of history that has been neglected for years. Like many of our country’s founding fathers, these families — Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois, Hasbrouck and LeFevre — were founders of New Paltz and it is important that their contributions remain recognized. We honor these founders because of their positive contributions to our nation, not because they partook in a practice in line with their time. However, both our country’s founders and the founders of New Paltz also relied on the labor of enslaved Africans.
While it is true that slavery was a social and economic institution of the era, naming residential buildings is the not the only nor the most proper way to celebrate these contributions given the buildings’ function to provide safe and comfortable housing for our student body. There are many versions of history and it is important to take slavery into consideration while exploring the possibility of honoring these founders in an alternative fashion.
The student body should be the first and foremost concern of any college or university. According to our university’s website, the Council is meant to be “consistent with the statutory responsibilities of such bodies, develop and foster strong relationships between institutions and local communities and promote campus and University interests.” Students of color have expressed repeatedly that they are hurt and undermined by the names of these buildings and were upset with the lack of communication by the Council prior to the Nov. 1 meeting. Furthermore. students have expressed feelings of alienation as a result of being subject to live, sleep and eat in buildings named for those who enslaved Africans.
To rename and replace the names of these buildings would not lack in impact. In 1991 Berkeley, California was the first city to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Since then, more than 50 cities, states and universities have followed suit. This change resulted in increased education about the history of the United States prior to the arrival of settlers, recognition of the oppression of Native Americans and celebration of their contributions.
Although the history of these families is significant to the New Paltz community’s identity, it is important to recognize the distinction of a publicly-funded university’s community from that of its geographical location. Ultimately, this matter is a question of whether the University wishes to continue its mission of an inclusive, welcoming and diverse learning community. In order to fulfill this mission, it is imperative that any and all concerns by the student body be addressed efficiently and effectively.
SUNY New Paltz has a long-standing tradition of encouraging student activism. The student body has actively and publicly pursued the endeavor of removing and replacing the Hasbrouck building names since August of last year giving the College Council ample time to consider the issue. The lack of action by the council of a college so passionate about student activism is disheartening.
In a campus-wide memo, Christian shared that he is “deeply disappointed” at the Council’s failure to pass the resolution to remove and replace the building names. We at The Oracle share this disappointment in the dismissal of the students who spoke in the two-hour public comment section of last week’s Council meeting, the Diversity and Inclusion Council who worked for a year to produce a 160-page report outlining their ultimate support for the resolution and the efforts and advocacy of every faculty and staff member and student who have voiced their opinion.
Names of campus building are an expression of values and so is this decision. To postpone this vote is to effectively ignore each of these efforts and these individuals deserve better as valuable members of this campus community. We implore the College Council to use this time to consider the advocacy by members of this community with the utmost care in order to reach the best possible decision upon its next meeting in the spring, so that it may then be subject to the approval of the SUNY Board of Trustees.