The University of Richmond is renaming six buildings and instituting naming guidelines after the Board of Trustees approved the work of the recently concluded naming commission.
“We recognize that not all members of our community will agree with these decisions,” President Kevin Hallock and the Board said in a Monday message to the community. And we recognize that the University would not exist today without the efforts of some whose names we have removed. The Board’s decision to adopt the principles and remove building names, while ultimately unanimous, was extremely challenging. Members of the Board began this process with strongly held differences of opinion, and the subsequent discussions were candid, thoughtful, and constructive. In the end, the Board concluded that the decisions outlined above are the best course of action for the University.”
In February 2021, former President Ronald Crutcher and the board announced that the school would not remove the names of founding President Robert Ryland, who enslaved people, and former University of Richmond Rector Douglas Southall Freeman, who promoted segregation and supported eugenics. That led to protests from students, who had initiated a 2019 request to rename the buildings.
“I firmly believe that removing Ryland’s and Freeman’s names would not compel us to do the hard, necessary, and uncomfortable work of grappling with the University’s ties to slavery and segregation,” Crutcher wrote in February 2021.
Since then, the Board created the Naming Principles Commission to review naming issues and hold surveys, listening sessions, and other community outreach opportunities. Crutcher resigned in 2022, announced in September 2020.
On March 25, the Naming Principles Commission issued its final recommendations for principles, including that no building, program or professorship should be named for someone who directly engaged in trafficking or enslavement of people or advocated for enslavement. Additionally, individuals can be disqualified for naming honors if they are found to be engaged in significant wrongdoing that is a serious violation of the school’s mission, or damages the school’s reputation.
“Such significant wrongdoing or misconduct may include a significant and material role in the promotion of segregation, eugenics, or other forms of discrimination based on protected class, as legally defined, or conviction of a felony,” the principles state.
The principles also lay out guidelines for how naming and de-naming decisions are made.
In the Monday letter, Hallock and the Board said that based on those principles, six buildings would be renamed. Except for Freeman, all the renamed buildings formerly honored someone who used enslaved persons, according to a school document. Sarah Brunet Memorial Hall is now called The Refectory. Freeman Hall is now Residence Hall Number Three. Jeter Hall, named for Dr. Jeremiah Bell Jeter, is the Residence Hall Number One. Bennet Puryear Hall is now Fountain Hall. Ryland Hall is the Humanities Building. James Thomas, Jr. Memorial Hall is now Residence Hall Number Two.
Going forward, the school will make a plan to preserve a full historical record of the buildings and their former namesakes. A committee to consider future name removals will also be established, although the president and the board will retain control over the final decision.
Hallock and the Board said, “Across our community, we heard clearly that a continued commitment to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging must be a core element of our University and its culture. We share that commitment and believe these decisions are consistent with that objective.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Richmond University” by Talbot0893. CC4.0