President Christian tasked the Diversity and Inclusion Council to lead the campuswide dialogue during the 2017-18 academic year about the names of the Hasbrouck Residential Complex buildings, named for the original Huguenot patentees of the Village of New Paltz who also owned enslaved Africans.
The scope of this task was broad, and the Diversity & Inclusion Council kept the campus community and other interested parties informed about surveys, forums, similar dialogues on other campuses and various communications via this website. The Diversity & Inclusion Council completed its work in May 2018, and its. President Christian affirmed the report’s recommendation to change the building names and forwarded that recommendation to the College Council for action. The College Council has the authority to approve building names on the campus.
The College Council voted on Feb. 21, 2019, by a 4-3 margin, to approve a resolution to rename six campus buildings (Bevier Hall, Crispell Hall, Deyo Hall, DuBois Hall, Hasbrouck Dining Hall and Lefevre Hall).
The College Council unanimously passed a resolution to assign new names to the Hasbrouck Complex buildings on March 6, 2019. The selected names carry local meaning, a theme that drew strong support from campus-wide survey responses from more than 3,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, including Huguenot descendants. The new names are Peregrine Dining Hall and Shawangunk, Ashokan, Awosting, Mohonk, and Minnewaska for the residence halls.
See messaging regarding this effort below. The links on the left-hand side of this page provide additional information about this effort.
March 20, 2019
Dear Members of the Campus Community,
At today’s meeting, the SUNY Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve a resolution to remove the names from the Hasbrouck Complex buildings on our campus and replace them with Peregrine Dining Hall and Shawangunk, Ashokan, Awosting, Mohonk, and Minnewaska for the residence halls.
The SUNY New Paltz College Council gave me the authority to assign the names to each building. The names will be as follows:
The names are assigned to mirror the actual locations of these local geographic features. For example, Crispell Hall will become Ashokan Hall, because the Ashokan reservoir and center are the northern-most of these five geographic features. Lefevre Hall will now be Shawangunk Hall, because the Shawangunk Ridge is the eastern-most of these features.
The former Hasbrouck Complex will be known as Peregrine Complex.
As a campus community, we have engaged in a (19-month) process involving student government, faculty governance, alumni, administrators, the Diversity & Inclusion Council, College Council members and Huguenot descendants. People listened respectfully to each other across different opinions. Some changed their minds. Others did not but grew to recognize the depth and complexity of this issue. Of course, some people are unhappy with the decision, and they may remain so. We can make room for such viewpoint differences even as we try to bridge them.
The building name changes mean a lot to our campus. Given our mission and purpose, the educational impact of this process and its outcomes will be long-lasting and equally meaningful. I regard this as a historic moment for the College, and I am grateful to the campus community for serving as a role model for civil discourse on a complex, contentious issue. Here is a link to my comments today to the Board of Trustees.
The current names will remain on the buildings for a while longer to ensure day-to-day functioning and safety measures for residents and the campus community. The new names will be effective at the start of fall semester 2019. In the meantime, we will be updating signage, maps, directories, fire safety systems and sharing these changes with outside agencies. We want to give these matters the time and attention they deserve to avoid confusion or chaos and plan a renaming ceremony this fall. Thank you for your patience as we move closer to this goal.
Later this spring, I will receive recommendations from a working group of faculty, staff, and students who are developing ideas for a contemplative space on campus to present a more complete and honest history of the College and our community for future students and visitors. That includes the history and lasting impacts of slavery, especially northern slavery, the contributions of enslaved Africans and their descendants, the history and legacy of indigenous people before and after European settlement, and the many positive contributions of Huguenot descendants to civic and educational life in New Paltz and beyond. We will announce to the campus community the date, time and location of the renaming ceremony as soon as it is confirmed.
Donald P. Christian
March 20, 2019
Good afternoon. I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the SUNY New Paltz building names resolution before you and thank you in advance for your consideration.
We have engaged in a (19 month) process to review the names on five residence halls and a dining hall on our campus that have a direct linkage to slavery in New Paltz, dating back to the very first Huguenot settlers in our community. My decision to open this door came on the heels of the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville in summer 2017 that brought into sharper focus longstanding and increasingly volatile racial divides and inequities in our nation. Our effort also coincided with increased national discourse about statues or building names that memorialize slavery in America, in the North as well as the South. The time was right to take on this issue.
The Huguenots and their descendants are prominent in the history of the Hudson Valley and our campus. Indeed, SUNY New Paltz likely would not exist without their efforts. This meant that our process would undoubtedly entail controversy. Historic Huguenot Street is a registered National Historic Landmark in New Paltz. We worked closely with colleagues there to include descendants in our discussions and to respect their concerns, while prioritizing our institutional interests and the well-being of current and future students. We also sought to identify areas of alignment between the evolving educational programming at Historic Huguenot Street and our educational goals.
Campus records from the early 1950s clearly document that the names were originally assigned to campus buildings explicitly to recognize the first Huguenot settlers in New Paltz. All were slave owners. This is an essential point, because it counters the long-held view that the building names honored the long history of generations of descendants during their 350 years in the Hudson Valley.
I have kept Chancellor Johnson and Chairman McCall apprised of our process from the start. I received early advice from Chairman McCall. I shared his advice with our community at the beginning of our process, and it helped set the stage for our success. He told me, and this is nearly a direct quote: “you should let people know that this discussion will likely draw attention from audiences beyond the university, and others will be watching the process and its outcome. This is an opportunity for your campus to model problem-solving and community building that is sadly elusive in much of contemporary society.” End quote.
Our process fulfilled that purpose in every way I might have hoped. People with different viewpoints listened respectfully to each other. Some changed their minds. Others did not but grew to recognize the depth and complexity of this issue. Of course, some people are unhappy with the decision, and may remain so. We can make room for such viewpoint differences even as we try to bridge them.
Our community focused on evidence-based arguments, while not dismissing the emotion that enters consideration of a topic like slavery and its contemporary racial and economic legacies. Student government, faculty governance, administrators and College Council members engaged each other in one of the most rewarding examples of shared governance I’ve seen. Our students were inspired to be part of this process, proud to be part of a campus that was willing to take on such a thorny issue and learned much about how change can happen.
In addition to the resolution before you, we are in the process of developing ways to tell our campus and regional history more fully and honestly than we have – just as Historic Huguenot Street is doing. We heard from students that we can do a better job of educating them about the history and lasting impacts of slavery, especially northern slavery, the contributions of enslaved Africans and their descendants, the history of indigenous people before and after European settlement, and the many positive contributions of Huguenot descendants to civic and educational life in New Paltz and beyond.
The building name changes mean a lot to our campus. Given our mission and purpose, the educational impact of this process and its outcomes will be long-lasting and equally meaningful. Thank you for your time.
March 6, 2019, 5:02 p.m.
Dear Members of the Campus Community,
At today’s meeting, the College Council voted unanimously to assign new names to Hasbrouck Complex buildings. The selected names carry local meaning, a theme that drew strong support in a campuswide survey. The Council’s resolution gives me the discretion to assign each approved name to a specific building.
The approved names, local geographic significance, and origin, are:
Shawangunk Hall, pronounced ‘SHON-gum,’ is named for the Shawangunk Ridge visible from campus. The meaning is translated from the local indigenous Munsee Lenape as “in the smoky air.”
Awosting Hall, named after one of the “sky” lakes on the Shawangunk Ridge. Awosting is adapted from the Native American (Munsee) word, Aiaskawosting, “place of grassy hills.”
Minnewaska Hall, named after another sky lake on the Ridge. Minnewaska derives from the combination of two Dakota or Sioux words, mini or mine (for many) and washta or waska (for water).
Mohonk Hall, named after another sky lake on the Ridge adjacent to Mohonk Mountain House, a 150-year old resort owned by the Smiley family. Mohonk is derived from the Delaware Indian word Mogonck, which some believe to mean “lake in the sky.”
Ashokan Hall, derived from an Iroquois word for “place of fish.” From 1967-2008 the Ashokan Field Campus, an outdoor education, conference, and retreat center located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, was part of SUNY New Paltz. It is now the Ashokan Center operated by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, folk musicians who in 1982 wrote and composed “Ashokan Farewell,” a farewell waltz featured in the PBS miniseries “The Civil War,” produced by Ken Burns. Ashokan is also the name of the nearby reservoir that supplies water to New York City.
Peregrine Dining Hall. The Peregrine falcons that soar above the Ridge and the local sky lakes have resurged after facing near extinction, thus the Peregrine has local significance as a symbol of resiliency and hope. Peregrine also refers to a wanderer from foreign lands and our campus has always welcomed students regardless of their origins.
Names were recommended by a study group of College Council members, faculty, staff, students, alumni and a community member/Historic Huguenot Street Board member. They drew on the responses of more than 3,000 respondents to a campuswide survey that went to students, faculty and staff, alumni, and community members, including Huguenot descendants. I am grateful to the study group for their thoughtful efforts in this process, and to those who provided thoughtful input on the survey that informed their work.
The recommendation to have the names reflect our local beauty is most fitting.
Following this action, next steps include:
Additionally, we are moving ahead with other recommendations of the Diversity and Inclusion Council within my purview as president: a working group of students, faculty, and staff is developing ideas for a contemplative space and other ways to present a more complete history of our campus and our community for future students and visitors.
I am committed to ensuring that we continue to keep the Huguenot names and the many contributions of these families alive on our campus.
As this matter moves to Albany for final resolution, I again wish to thank members of our campus community for their participation in this process, which began in August 2017. This process is a stellar example of shared governance with students, faculty, the Diversity & Inclusion Council, college leadership and College Council members and engagement with our alumni.
Donald P. Christian
February 21, 2019, 4:45 p.m.
Dear Members of the Campus Community,
At today’s meeting, the College Council approved the resolution to rename the Hasbrouck Complex buildings with a 4-3 vote. I’m so pleased with this forward-looking outcome. It is the right move for the campus at this time, as we strive to be a leader in meeting the educational needs of all New Yorkers. Indeed, I regard this as a historic moment for the College, and I am grateful to the College Council for their support.
Gratitude to the College Council
I appreciate that College Council members wrestled with this difficult decision as they did, and am reminded – as the Diversity and Inclusion Council noted in its report – that it is unlikely that we would ever achieve unanimity on such a deeply rooted and complex topic.
I believe that the additional steps the College is taking to portray our history and that of the region more openly and fully will provide an important and long-lasting educational outcome of this process, as well.
Next Steps: Replacement Names
Now that the College Council has approved the principle of replacing these names, the Council will consider new names, based on the recommendations of the study group on alternate building names for the Hasbrouck Complex. At the College Council’s direction, the study group conducted a campuswide survey that yielded more than 3,000 responses from students, faculty and staff, alumni, and community members, including Huguenot descendants. SUNY policy does not allow buildings to be named after individuals without a substantial financial donation. The approval of replacement names is the responsibility of the College Council. They have agreed to undertake this task at their next spring meeting, date and time of that meeting to be announced.
Name Change Requires SUNY Board of Trustees Action
Following that decision by the College Council, a single resolution to change and replace the names on the Hasbrouck Complex buildings will be considered by the SUNY Board of Trustees, likely later this spring or early summer. This issue will be considered by one of the Board of Trustees committees before it goes to the full board. At each step, members of the Board of Trustees will need some time to review these materials before they act on such a proposed change. If approved by the SUNY Board, the decision will be final.
Future Renaming Ceremony
If the SUNY Board of Trustees approves the College Council’s actions, the current names will remain on the buildings for a short while longer to ensure day-to-day functioning and safety measures for residents and the campus community. We will plan a renaming ceremony for the buildings once the appropriate approvals are reached. Thank you for your patience as we move closer to our goal.
Not Erasing History: We Are Creating a Contemplative Space
Additionally, we are moving ahead with other recommendations of the Diversity and Inclusion Council within my purview as president: a working group of students, faculty, and staff is developing ideas for a contemplative space and other ways to present a more complete history of our campus and our community for future students and visitors. And we will continue to seek opportunities to work together to make New Paltz a better community for all students and employees.
With this momentous decision by our College Council, I wish to thank members of our campus community for their participation in this process, which began in August 2017. At the outset, I believed that the New Paltz community could be a role model for civil discourse on a contentious issue. I now know that this process has served the campus community well and raised awareness of important issues of race and racism in our society. I’m so proud of our students, employees and alumni who have engaged in this dialogue and to our partners on the College Council and at Historic Huguenot Street who participated as well and taught us much along the way.
Donald P. Christian
February 21, 2019
Thank you to College Council members for traveling to campus today for this important meeting. I also welcome and thank our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members – including community leaders and representatives of Historic Huguenot Street who are here. I have been grateful to the Council throughout my presidency for your support of my leadership. I am hoping for your continued support today with a yes vote on the Hasbrouck renaming resolution. I will limit my report today to the matter of Hasbrouck Building names, in the interest of safeguarding time for College Council discussion of this issue. I want to thank College Council members Vinnie Cozzolino, N’della Seque, Ron Law and others who served on a study group to develop possible alternate names. The alternate names are for your consideration if you vote to support the resolution to remove the current names. Mr. Cozzolino will report on that work in a few minutes. I was impressed to learn of the robust participation in the study group’s survey by our students, employees, alumni and community members – more than 3,000 responses, a record for the campus. You will also hear from N’della, Student Association President and a voting member of the College Council, who will share students’ views on this matter.
I will begin by reiterating my strong position that removing the current names from the Hasbrouck Complex buildings and replacing them is the right thing to do. Of course, I recognize that we will never gain full agreement on a complex issue such as this. That does not deter me from my position that this is the right direction. The recommendation to change these building names grew out of the careful process we undertook during 2017-18, led by our Diversity and Inclusion Council. That process paid careful attention to the history behind these building names, the history and legacy of northern slavery, the views and perspectives of a broad array of stakeholders on our campus, the positive contributions of generations of Huguenots, and a focus on the future of supporting and welcoming all students to our campus.
Many of us were moved by the thoughtful voices of students at the November 1 meeting. They shared how the current building names make them and others feel unwelcomed and dismissed, and do not reflect a history that all students are part of. They spoke about what it would mean for the names to change, and what not changing the names means to them and the College.
I am grateful for the many voices of support for removing and replacing these building names. As we have shared before, they include the Student Senate and the Faculty Senate. More recently, the Board of Trustees of Campus Auxiliary Services and the Executive Committee of the New Paltz chapter of United University Professionals, the union that represents academic and professional faculty, have added their support. Several units and departments at SUNY New Paltz have voiced their support. The Village of New Paltz Mayor and Deputy Mayor wrote in support. The members of my Cabinet, who lead the various divisions of the university and who provide expertise and guidance on major institutional decisions, support this resolution. They are concerned about harm to the institution if the names are not changed and recognize the value and benefit of changing the names for the future success of this College. You have their letter in front of you, and I ask that this and other letters of support be entered into the College Council records and we will include them in the archives of our process on the Diversity and Inclusion website.
I now want to share some of the thoughts and perspectives that support MY position that these names should be changed. I understand that others may not share these views.
I have spoken before about my admiration and respect for the thoughtful, inclusive, evidence-informed process that the Diversity and Inclusion Council led … and in which students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members participated, openly and frankly. I have kept SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson and Board of Trustees Chair H. Carl McCall apprised throughout our process, from the very beginning. Chancellor Johnson has been so impressed with how our campus approached this tough issue that she asked me to speak about our process to my SUNY presidential colleagues at our November meeting, as a model for how to approach complex, contentious issues.
In my judgment, the caliber of the process itself should be a significant factor in the College Council’s decision, beyond the resolution’s broad base of support.
Throughout our process, I have tried to keep my focus on students and on the future of SUNY New Paltz as a learning environment for an increasingly diverse student community. My empathy (and I know that of others) grew for current and future students being asked to live, eat, and sleep in buildings named for those who enslaved others, perhaps especially when that history has not been portrayed openly.
Wrestling with this issue has been for me a case study of white privilege – which I know I have benefited from in my life. Our nation and our organizations have a long history of decisions and actions that consider primarily (or solely) the perspectives of white America, or that favor or benefit white people. College Council and other documents from the early 1950s noted the bravery of the Huguenots in coming to America to escape religious and political persecution in Europe and to take on the hardships of settling a new land. When the College Council first assigned the names of the original Huguenot patentees to campus buildings this is the history that was noted. There is nothing in the record to suggest that the College Council considered or recognized the reality that those same individuals enslaved Africans, or that their settlement had permanent impact on indigenous people. The time is right for us to take a broader view of that history and the meaning behind our building names.
Addressing issues of race and racism – as this endeavor surely does – often triggers white people to claim a loss of our own story, shifting the focus of discrimination away from those who have suffered under it. This sometimes creates a narrative to defend a status quo. We can do better….
Indeed, we cannot fulfill our educational mission if seeking truth and enriching our understanding of each other are viewed as a loss. We have an opportunity to act now based on a broader and more inclusive consideration of history and contemporary issues, mirroring actions by another local institution, Historic Huguenot Street. I want to be clear that it is not only black and brown people who support this change but also white members of our community, including students, employees, alumni, and some Huguenot descendants. Let me read the words of one descendant:
“… I am writing in support of the name change for the SUNY New Paltz buildings in the Hasbrouck complex named after the Huguenots who settled the area. As a direct descendant of these settlers … , I feel the time is long overdue for the recognition of others who participated in the growth of the region. Growing up, my grandmother would tell me stories of our “great” ancestors and how they overcame religious persecution to build new lives in America. While these things are true, it is only half the story. Through the increased transparency of modern historical research, it is easier to see the whole picture where enslaved Africans and Native Americans were marginalized for our success. I have seen strides made on Huguenot Street to include more archeological digs to further the knowledge of others who lived on the site. It is my hope that one day our detailed archives will help others find their ancestral history in the way that mine has been documented. Let the renaming of these buildings be one small step in the restorative justice this nation is seeking. I wish you and the university the best of luck in resolving this sensitive issue.”
I have heard the frequent criticism that changing the building names - even if they are linked to slavery - would mean “erasing history.” The thoughtful letter from our history department provides a clear response to that criticism. Keeping the names on these buildings defends a longstanding status quo and belies our mission as a public university. Let me be clear: the goal of this entire process has been to elevate our history, tell it more fully, openly, and honestly – definitively NOT to erase it. The Diversity and Inclusion Council recommended, in addition to changing building names, that we “not simply replace one history with another.” To achieve that goal, the Diversity and Inclusion Council proposed a “contemplative space” on campus where future students and visitors can gather to reflect on and discuss the many elements of our history, informed by educational programming and materials. This suggestion is consistent with the frequent feedback from students that they want to know more about local history and the history of campus building names.
Such a project is within my presidential purview and that work has already begun. I have appointed a working group of faculty, staff, and students who are studying and developing recommendations for such a space on campus, to tell our broader history including the history of the original Huguenots and their link to slavery, the history of enslaved people and their descendants, including the economic and racial legacies of that history, the history of the indigenous people before and after European settlement, and the many positive contributions of Huguenot descendants in the post-slavery era to the College, the community and beyond.
This group is already thinking about ways to integrate such a space into the life of the campus. I have asked them also to recommend content for interior signage in Hasbrouck Complex buildings summarizing the history of these building names, including the link to slavery, and the 2017-19 campus efforts to change these building names. We plan to complete these projects next year, and I am already in touch with possible donors who might provide financial support.
N’della and I talked recently about what it would mean to her and other students involved in this process to come back to campus as alumni in 2030 or 2040 and know the impact that they have had on better educating future students about this history. I’ve also adopted that long-term thinking. Consistent with our mission as a public university, we’re making every effort to have this endeavor be an educational one for us all. My position is consistent with the leadership role that we all want SUNY New Paltz to take on topics of equity and inclusion. Indeed, I see this outcome of telling history more fully, openly, and honestly as one of the most important outcomes of this entire process.
At the outset of this endeavor, I believed that the New Paltz community could be a role model for civil discourse on a contentious issue. I now know that this process has served the campus community well and raised awareness of important issues of race and racism in our society. I’m so proud of our students, employees and alumni and partners at Historic Huguenot Street who have engaged in this dialogue that has taught us much along the way.
Thank you for hearing my perspectives.
Donald P. Christian
November 1, 2018, 11:00 a.m.
Dear Members of the Campus Community,
At today’s meeting, the College Council voted to postpone the resolution to rename the Hasbrouck Complex Buildings until its next meeting in the spring semester. I am deeply disappointed that the Council did not pass this resolution that has the unanimous support of the student government, faculty senate, the senior leadership of the College, and myself as president. I am immensely proud of the students who spoke so passionately at today’s meeting during a two-hour public comment session about the imperative to change these names. I am grateful to the faculty who also voiced their support for this change and for our students.
I have suggested that the Council consider both the postponed motion and the next essential step of replacement names for these buildings at its next meeting. They have agreed. Before that meeting, they will form a sub-committee of the Council to solicit community input about replacement names.
I remain hopeful because the Council is willing to take further time to consider this proposal thoughtfully and carefully. I ask that our students and other community members who support this change not despair about today’s outcome, as disappointing as it is. Change is hard, sometimes incremental, and often takes time.
I encourage you to continue advocating for this change. I certainly will continue my advocacy and my strong encouragement to the College Council to support this decision.
We will announce to the campus community the date, time and location of the next meeting as soon as it is confirmed.
Donald P. Christian
August 24, 2018, 11:00 a.m.
Dear Members of the SUNY New Paltz Community:
I write to update you on the current status of our year-long process to evaluate the names on buildings in the Hasbrouck Complex, led by our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council. Here is a link to the Council’s report. I encourage you to read this report, which is well-informed, thoughtful, rich in detail, and forward-looking.
In brief, both the D&I Council and I have reached the conclusion that the names on these buildings should be removed and replaced. I will take that recommendation to the College Council this fall. College presidents do not have the authority to change building names. That authority rests with the New Paltz College Council and the SUNY Board of Trustees. In addition, the report recommends, and I endorse, that we develop approaches to more fully tell our history, including the legacy of slavery and the indigenous people who originally settled here; and we develop alternative ways to recognize the many contributions of the Huguenots and their descendants.
Below, I provide more detail on this process, the findings and recommendations of the D&I Council, some of my reflections as President on this matter, and next steps.
Background. These buildings were named for the original Huguenot patentees who were the first European settlers in New Paltz. Like other Europeans who settled in New York and other mid-Atlantic states, they enslaved Africans. The campus building names have been contentious on campus for many years, and official action to review them was long overdue. Taking on this task last year coincided with increased national discourse and conflict about statues or building names that commemorate or memorialize slavery in America. This also comes at a time that our country continues to wrestle with racial inequities and injustices and the legacy of our history with slavery.
Process. I charged the Diversity and Inclusion Council with leading the process to review these names and to develop a recommendation either to retain the names or to remove them and rename these buildings – but not to consider alternative names. The D&I Council held multiple forums, educated the community about our history, and solicited broad input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, Huguenot descendants, and Historic Huguenot Street leadership. They also studied how other colleges and universities have dealt with the legacy of slavery on their campuses.
D&I Council Report. The D&I Council reached its recommendation that the building names be removed and replaced while recognizing that there will never be unanimity of opinion on such a deeply rooted and complex topic. That recommendation honors the strongest sentiment expressed by students during the process. The Council was particularly moved by the belief expressed frequently by students that no one should be asked to live, sleep, and eat in buildings honoring people who enslaved others. The current names make some students feel unwelcomed and not at home here, when a sense of belongingness is a key factor in students’ success.
My position. I am strongly and fully persuaded that changing the names is the right path for our campus at this time. I had entered this process with an open mind, and without a clear prediction of an outcome. I attended every forum, spoke with and heard from students, Huguenot descendants, community members, alumni and employees during the process. I spent considerable time this summer reviewing and reflecting on the D&I Council report and recommendations. I discussed the report and my thoughts with other campus leaders, SUNY leadership, and leaders at Historic Huguenot Street. In the end, I found the insights and arguments developed by the D&I Council compelling.
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.
Who has the authority to change building names? Next steps. As I shared when we began this process, naming buildings or changing building names is not within my authority as President. That authority rests with the campus College Council and thereafter with the SUNY Board of Trustees. I have spoken with College Council members – including the President of the Student Association, who is a voting member - about our process, the recommendation of the Diversity and Inclusion Council, and my position that the names should be changed.
Next, the College Council will review the D&I Council report and deliberate upon my recommendation. To fulfill their important role and out of respect for their authority, the College Council deserves appropriate space and time for that process. Even as I know the community is eager for resolution, I ask that we continue to model the thoughtful approach to this complicated issue that you demonstrated so well last year.
Not erasing history. There was a clear sense on the D&I Council and among those who participated in our process that we not “erase history.” The D&I Council wrote that we must work to “understand our past in all its rich diversity without simply replacing one history with another.” That includes recognizing and acknowledging the history and legacy of slavery, in particular Northern slavery, and the enslaved labor that was key to the economic success of European settlers and the region. That full history should include the Munsee people who were the area’s inhabitants at the time of European settlement, and their diaspora to the Midwest. It also includes honoring the many contributions of the Huguenot settlers and their generations of descendants. Many of those descendants were abolitionists; fought in the Civil War, heavily on the Union side; and played a key role in the establishment and survival of educational institutions in New Paltz that were the forerunners of SUNY New Paltz.
We will consider a recommendation of the D&I Council that we accomplish that educational goal by developing a “contemplative space” on the campus – along with related educational programming and material. This would be a place where future students and visitors can gather to reflect and discuss the many elements of our history.
Conclusion. As I reflected on this process, I thought often about Sankofa, a word and concept from the Akan tribe in Ghana. This translates as “it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten” or, “It is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” Sankofa is often depicted as a bird with its feet facing forward while it turns its head backwards to fetch a valuable egg that is at risk of being left behind.
Sankofa has a clear linkage to our building names process. African-American and African diaspora scholars interpret Sankofa to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future, or remembering our past to protect our future. This idea embodies the spirit of the D&I Council’s views about not erasing history but rather committing to continuously discussing and engaging the complexity of human experience and the stories that become part of our history.
My sincerest hope is that, with your support, our Hasbrouck Complex naming process will set the stage in the coming decades for open dialogue and greater understanding about race and historical legacy.
Donald P. Christian
August 31, 2017, 12:52 p.m.
Members of the SUNY New Paltz Community:
I write for two purposes and ask that you read the entirety of this letter:
The petition asks that Hasbrouck Dining Hall, in whole or in part, be renamed to honor the memory of Darold Thompson, a New Paltz alumnus and long-term Sodexo food service employee who passed away recently. It is clear from the petition comments that Darold was a friend and inspiration to many students during his 17 years as a Hasbrouck employee. I enjoyed my interactions with him when we met on campus or now-and-then at the gym. He will be missed by many.
I am moved by the outpouring of support for a member of our community who embodied much of the spirit of New Paltz, from people who interacted with him daily over many years. Despite my appreciation for that sentiment, I am unable to honor the request to rename Hasbrouck Dining Hall in this way, as this request is not consistent with longstanding practice and current Board of Trustees policy. More recently, when a beloved member of our community has passed away, friends, family, or colleagues have worked with our Foundation to raise funds to memorialize that individual through a tree, bench, or plaque. The campus is considering alternative ways to honor Darold, and more information will be shared shortly about how those interested may contribute to that effort.
This brings me to my second purpose for writing. This worthy effort to honor a longtime employee brings immediacy to a matter I have been thinking about for some time: initiating a community dialogue about names of the Hasbrouck Dining Hall and residence halls in that complex. Some view these building names as perpetuating the legacy of slavery, and I am aware that some students, particularly students of color, have expressed their discomfort about living in halls with these names. These issues have not been addressed fully and openly by our community to ensure that the visible symbolism of building names is culturally consistent with our values. Now is the right time to do so, when our nation is engaged in discourse about removing Confederate statues or changing building names that commemorate or memorialize the era of slavery in America. This is also a time that we are embarking on a series of diversity and inclusion goals to make SUNY New Paltz an even better place to learn, work, and live.
Accordingly, over this academic year we will foster a transparent, open, respectful dialogue to 1) analyze and build awareness and understanding of historical and contemporary issues surrounding these names and northern slavery, with the help of scholars including our own faculty members; and 2) develop a consensus view about both the pros and cons of either retaining or replacing those names. We undertake this process with no preconceived notion of the outcome, and with the understanding that careful speaking and listening must come before conclusions are drawn.
This process will be inclusive, drawing on the voices and perspectives of all members of the campus and broader New Paltz communities. We will also learn from the experiences of other colleges and universities that have evaluated names attached to statues or buildings recognizing individuals whose actions promoted or supported slavery or racial discrimination.
It would be naïve to think that these discussions will not be difficult. They will require the empathy and careful listening that I have written about before. We need to be aware at the outset that this discussion will draw attention from audiences beyond the university, and that others will be watching our process and its outcome. We have an opportunity to model problem-solving and community building that is sadly elusive in much of contemporary society.
I am asking the Diversity and Inclusion Council to lead this process as a priority of its work this year, issuing a report of its activities, findings and recommendations by April 15, 2018. That lengthy timeline reflects my intention that we give this topic the full attention it deserves, and ensures we will have an opportunity to examine multiple perspectives.
This charge is beyond the normal scope of responsibility that we envisioned when forming the Council, but I see this group as best positioned to lead our community through this discussion, with the care and attention it deserves. The Council will provide multiple forums to invite broad input from current students, alumni, faculty and staff, members of the College Council, Historic Huguenot Street and other community partners.
The detailed charge to the Diversity and Inclusion Council will be communicated to the campus after Labor Day. My charge directs the Council to determine whether to retain or replace these building names, not to debate alternative names. If the Council’s work results in a recommendation to change one or more names, we will engage a further deliberative, consultative process to develop new names to recommend to the Board of Trustees; any changes must be consistent with Board of Trustees policies.
Here is a brief summary of relevant background, which will be a platform for launching this dialogue.
Buildings in the Hasbrouck Complex are named after Huguenot families – Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois, Hasbrouck, and Lefevre - that were the original settlers of New Paltz, and that have more than three centuries of history in the United States. These buildings were named explicitly to recognize these families, not individual family members, and not specifically the founding members.
There is no question that each of these families owned slaves during the period of slavery in New York. This is a shameful and painful legacy that we must acknowledge and portray openly and honestly. We must recognize that the legacy of the building names has a very different, painful impact for African-American members of our campus community than for others. Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) in New Paltz maintains historic buildings dating back to the earliest European settlement of this community, and engages in educational programming about Huguenot history. HHS has agreed to be a partner in these discussions, and has already undertaken programming – such as the recent “Slave-Dwelling Project” – to educate about this history and its contemporary consequences, including reckoning with slave ownership by early Huguenots. We will welcome the expertise and viewpoints from HHS members, among them emeritus professor of black studies, A.J. Williams-Myers, who serves on the HHS board. You will hear more soon about an upcoming event co-sponsored by HHS, SUNY New Paltz, and other organizations that will inform thinking about this legacy of slavery.
The Hasbrouck buildings were built and named in the 1960s, about 130 years after slaves were emancipated in New York, and about 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Current prominent citizens in the Hudson Valley and beyond, white and black, are further descendants who carry these family names. Those families and their influence on higher education opportunities in New Paltz are a key part of the College’s deep roots in this community.
This is the complex history that we must understand and translate into meaning -- about the names we attach to campus buildings, the history behind those names, and what they convey about our values. SUNY New Paltz has a longstanding reputation as an inclusive, welcoming and diverse learning community dedicated to providing a path to a better life for New York citizens. We are proud of our work over many decades to advance that goal. Our purpose in this effort is to evaluate and embrace what we stand for, in order to ensure rich learning opportunities for future generations of citizens.
We will provide frequent communication to the community about this effort.
Donald P. Christian
As announced by President Christian, the Diversity and Inclusion Council has been asked to lead this year’s planned dialogue about the names of the Hasbrouck Complex buildings. The scope of this task is broad, and the Council will do its best to keep the Campus Community and other interested parties informed with monthly updates.
The Council is committed to hearing your concerns and perspectives for our report to the President and Board of Trustees, but is not a decision-making body.
Our work is underway, and the Council will begin by seeking answers to a few questions:
Here is a tentative schedule that the Council will follow moving forward:
November 17: Initial survey closes
Throughout December: Focus groups, Visits to Department/Staff meetings, Residence Hall meetings
Town hall-style open campus forums tentatively set:
Thursday, January 25th: Evening forum
Friday, January 26th: Noontime forum
Throughout February: Information gathering will continue with additional focus groups, meetings with faculty and staff, student group meetings, and focus groups with alumni and families/decendants.
Early March: Drafting of the report begins.
May 1: Report to the President due.