COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Calls to rename buildings on the University of South Carolina’s campus that are named after controversial figures during the Civil War and Civil Rights Era have continued to grow louder in recent months.
On Thursday, UofSC students, faculty, and community members got the chance to voice the changes they want to see to UofSC leaders.
The Presidential Commission on University History held a virtual public forum on Thursday. It was all about letting the students and faculty’s voices be heard, and those voices centered on calls to rename many buildings on the University of South Carolina’s campus that the speakers said don’t represent UofSC 's values of justice, inclusion, and equity.
Students and faculty called for the renaming of Wade Hampton Hall, the Harper Elliott Dormitory, and McMaster College, which houses the School of Visual Arts and design. However, taking center stage during the discussion was the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center.
“This particular building was a source of deep disappointment when I returned to the university as an alumni and saw that such an impressive and important space centered on health and wellbeing did not champion the health and wellbeing of all people,” Dr. Toby Jenkins, a UofSC College of Education professor, said.
It’s a sentiment that was voiced by many who spoke during the forum.
“A plaque or notice in the museum on campus may well be in order,” one UofSC student said, “but having the name of one of the most visited and commonly referred to [buildings] on campus be that of a segregationist does not align with the values of the student body.”
Students and faculty pointed out that while Strom Thurmond was the longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate history, he ran for president in 1948 on a platform opposing desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“First, I ask that you commit to uplifting members of our community who are black, women, and people of color, knowing that we cannot uplift them at the same time as also celebrating men who dedicated their lives to killing and oppressing them,” another UofSC student said.
The commission moved to rename the Marion J. Sims Resident Hall earlier this summer by recommending it’s renaming, but students pointed out that the Heritage Act still stands in the way of the renaming moving forward, and they want to see action from the university.
“It is not enough to say that we are an institution that believes in justice and equity. We must act on those beliefs, even if that means rethinking, reconstructing, or renaming the spaces and places of our university,” Jenkins said.
No one spoke against the renaming of the buildings during Thursday’s public meeting.
UofSC has requested a waiver from the General Assembly to override the Heritage Act and rename Sims Hall. The Heritage Act prevents certain monuments from being removed from public property without a two-thirds vote from the General Assembly.
The Presidential Commission, which was created in 2019 by President Bob Caslen, seeks to examine and address the historical context of the university, including evaluating and renaming of university buildings.
Their next meeting is scheduled for November 2.