To many people, taking down statues or renaming buildings that honor the Confederacy is disrespectful. People will argue that it’s erasing history, that it will keep people from remembering the past or that it’s simply disrespectful. We disagree.
In reality, keeping building names that honor Confederate figures is more disrespectful to those living in the U.S. today. The Confederacy fought to keep slaves, instilled white supremacist values and oppressed black communities. As a country that’s had slavery, segregation and is still fighting against racism, removing these racist landmarks could be a small — but important — step.
Each community needs to examine the impact they could make by taking this step. For JMU, that would mean renaming the buildings that honor Confederate leaders.
As an inclusive and ever-growing community, it’s vital that the university learns just as the students do. Naming these buildings after historically racist individuals was a mistake, but it’s a mistake we can fix.
For some people, it’s more than just the names of buildings. It’s about years of scars from injustice. By changing the names, JMU can better convey a message of inclusion.
JMU’s Ashby, Jackson and Maury Halls were named after Confederate leaders in 1917-18. During this time, the lost cause ideology — the false belief that the south fought a heroic fight — ran rampant. Idolization of the Confederacy began. By keeping these building names, JMU is ignoring the hate they represent.
Instead of recognizing people who added to the issues of racism, we should celebrate those who made advances in the JMU and Harrisonburg community. For example, renaming a building after the university’s first black graduate, Sheary Johnson, would better reflect JMU’s history and progress over the years.
Sheary Johnson, the first black graduate of Madison College, reflects back on her time on campus.
Recently, JMU published a survey to students, faculty and staff asking their opinions of these building names. The university received backlash on social media where some argued the history of the Confederate leaders was “romanticized” in the survey.
As a @JMU alum this is embarrassing. As a former Rector of another Univerity, this should be easy decision for the JMU board of visitors. Don’t wait for your September meeting. #changethenamesjmu NOW! https://t.co/z46wptP14n— Gary McCollum (@gmccollum5) June 18, 2020
Several JMU faculty members and students tweeted their dissatisfaction with the survey. One tweet was from Ethan Gardner, a democracy fellow at JMU’s Center for Civic Engagement, who said “Do better JMU.” The hashtag #ChangeTheNamesJMU was created by the JMU community in response to the survey.
JMU released a Google Form Sunday in an attempt to gather input from members of the JMU community regarding the potential name changes of buildings on campus.
After the backlash, the university removed the bios of the Confederate leaders on the survey. The Breeze calls on JMU to listen to its people and rename these buildings now. The lessons learned from the Confederacy can remain in history through photos, documents and scholarly research. There’s no need for JMU to glorify them.
I viewed the @JMU official form to gather student perspectives on the three confederates who have buildings named after them. I was shocked to have to read through bios romanticizing the “daring exploits” of traitors who fought to keep people enslaved. Do better JMU pic.twitter.com/0t0DZx1UK7— Ethan Gardner (@ethanhgardner) June 14, 2020
The Breeze calls on the university to “be the change” it advocates for. Renaming the buildings doesn’t mean we’re erasing our history — it’s allowing us to move forward.
The Breeze’s Editorial Board represents the official stance of the paper on important issues such as this one. For more information, contact Editor-in-Chief Katelyn Waltemyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.