After a year long evaluation of the current building names in the Hasbrouck Complex, the Diversity and Inclusion Council (D&I Council) of SUNY New Paltz has concluded that these names should be removed and replaced.
In a campus-wide letter on Aug. 24, President Donald P. Christian announced that he will take this recommendation to the College Council this fall, as college presidents do not have the authority to change building names.
The College Council and thereafter, the SUNY Board of Trustees will have the final say in renaming the buildings named after Huguenot families – Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois, Hasbrouck and Lefevre.
“I am strongly and fully persuaded that changing the names is the right path for our campus at this time,” said President Christian in a campus memo. “I regard making such a change now as consistent with our community values of fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment, including taking active anti-racist steps such as this.”
In 2017, President Christian addressed the situation of the Hasbrouck names due to an outpour of student voices who felt that the names of these building perpetuated the legacy of slavery. Students felt that the need to incorporate to the history of slavery was important, and to live in a building named after slave owners is wrong and problematic. President Christian then charged the D&I Council to carry on this nationwide conversation on changing building names that memorialize the era of slavery in America.
The D&I Council is comprised of 21 members of the SUNY New Paltz community, including professors, deans and alumni, some of which were invited by the President Christian himself for this particular subject. To reach a conclusion in this heavily debated topic, the Council convened with various groups of the New Paltz community throughout the year by conducting surveys and holding open forums in town and in residential halls. Nine members of the Council also visited Historic Huguenot Street to discuss “efforts to make their tours and programming inclusive of enslaved Africans, women, and the indigenous peoples of the Hudson Valley,” according to the 160 page report by the Council.
The “Hasbrouck Building Complex Renaming Dialogue Report and Recommendation” provides the research of the members of the Council, who looked into how the buildings were named, the results of surveys which showed that students did want to see a change, or at the very least, have a conversation. Furthermore, the report provides a historical overview of slavery in New Paltz and the past conversations of the building’s names.
“The names of these buildings have been problematic for years now,” said Professor Reynolds Scott-Childress, who is now co-chair of the D&I Council.
“By replacing the names, we are not ‘erasing history,’ we can recognize their contribution but we don’t have to honor them in this specific way. These buildings serve a different function,” Scott-Childress said.
To inform the community of all histories, The Office of Communication & Marketing developed a new catalogue of building histories. The website entitled “What’s in a name?” offers detailed information about various academic, administrative, residential and recreational and athletic facilities.The interactive campus map will display this information as well.
This new site provides dates of construction, information about how buildings have been used and changed over time, the origins and significances of buildings’ names, other contextual and historical information, that recognizes slavery, indigenous history, as well as the Huguenot settlers.
“We learned through the powerful dialogue of students that buildings aren’t the only way to transmit history,” said Mark Colvson, Dean of the Sojourner Truth Library.
Echoing Scott-Childress’ sentiments, Colvson addressed that there are many different, complex histories, and acknowledging them doesn’t invalidate the other.
A contemplative place on campus was also a recommendation by the Council’s report. The contemplative place will serve as place that includes historical information and invites community gathering and reflection.
“Creating a dialogue actually changes minds, it leads to actions,” Colvson said. “Sitting with someone and learning their story can be transforming dialogue is a way of breaking our attachments to things we don’t want to hear.”
While changing the names of the Hasbrouck Complex could take time, members of the Council are optimistic that SUNY New Paltz will continue this dialogue and continue its mission of an inclusive, welcoming and diverse learning community.