SUNY New Paltz President: Renaming Buildings Would Be Anti-Racist

Aug 27, 2018

The president of the State University of New York at New Paltz is recommending that names of a number of campus buildings be removed and replaced. The move comes after the president charged the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Council with reviewing the names on six buildings that are connected with slave owners.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian updated the campus community August 24 with his recommendation on the six Hasbrouck building names. Christian says he came to the decision based on his experience with what became the Hasbrouck Building Names project and the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Council’s recommendation to change the names. The six buildings in question are named for Huguenot families who were the first European settlers in New Paltz in 1678, and who owned slaves. The authority to name buildings or change building names rests with the campus College Council and thereafter with the SUNY Board of Trustees. Eli Basch is acting chairperson of the SUNY New Paltz College Council.

“Well, the process is going to be, since I’m acting chair of the Council, is to put it on the agenda on the September 6th meeting for digestion of the report that was issued by the members of the Diversity and Inclusion Council,” Basch says. “So that report’s been circulated among the Council members. And I’m sure they’re reviewing it and reading it, as I have done. And it’ll come up as one of the items on the agenda for discussion. I don’t think there’ll likely be a conclusion on September 6th.”

Last year, Christian responded to a change.org petition asking that the college rename Hasbrouck Dining Hall by introducing a process to evaluate the names of buildings in the Hasbrouck Complex. This arose, as he mentioned, during a time when the nation became engaged in further discourse about removing Confederate statues — for example in Charlottesville, Virginia — and changing building names that commemorate or memorialize the era of slavery in America. Basch says now, one year later, there is even more context for the issue. And he says he has not decided on whether to heed the recommendation to change the names.

“And I would say I’m pretty much open, but the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Council seems to be extremely in depth, and they’ve given a lot of study to the subject itself,” says Basch. “And it has a somewhat long history, the naming of the buildings, and actually some controversy that has arisen because of the names that have been given to the different buildings that I think that I have some ideas.”

He acknowledges that Christian’s recommendation carries a lot of weight, and commended the president for reaching out to the campus community and broader community. Part of that broader community is Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, which aims to educate the public about the area’s history through programming and tours. Liselle LaFrance is the group’s executive director.

“We were included in the process initiated by President Christian. They had three public forums, and both descendants and museum representative were invited to attend and to speak at those forums,” LaFrance says. “Clearly, the decision ultimately lies with the university.”

She says Historic Huguenot Street has a partnership with SUNY New Paltz she hopes continues. LaFrance says the group tries to share the Huguenot history as extensively as possible.

“I don’t think we should have a position on what they do about naming the buildings on their campus,” says LaSalle. “From my perspective, as the director here, it would seem to me that, if I were a descendant, it would be very difficult to know that they’re contemplating that.”

Meantime, President Christian, in a campus memo said, “I am strongly and fully persuaded that changing the names is the right path for our campus at this time. 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.”