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:
- Who are the buildings actually named for?
- What was the context of their naming?
- When? Who did the naming?
- What were the qualifications/determining factors?
- How has this question of the names been dealt with in the past when raised by community members?
- What is the best way to engage with the Community on this issue?
- National trends
- Current students, staff, faculty, and administration
- Local community
- Family and descendants of the families
- What is the best way to insure that the Council is effectively communicating their findings to the decision making entities?
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.
A message from President Donald P. Christian:
August 24, 2018, 11:00 a.m.
Update on Hasbrouck Building Names Project
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
A message from President Donald P. Christian:
August 31, 2017, 12:52 p.m.
Hasbrouck Complex Building Names: A Call for Community Dialogue
Members of the SUNY New Paltz Community:
I write for two purposes and ask that you read the entirety of this letter:
- I am responding to a change.org petition asking that the College rename Hasbrouck Dining Hall; and
- I am introducing a process we will undertake to evaluate the current names of buildings in the Hasbrouck Complex.
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