New sunlight is shining upon college campus racism, and students nationwide are encouraged. Some are demonstrating solely to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters at Mizzou and Yale, the two newest loci of racial tension and debate; others, like the black (and non-black) students engaging in demonstrations like today’s coordinated walkout at 20 schools, are demonstrating for further racial redress where they study. An important victory happened over the weekend.
Georgetown president John DeGioia announced in a Saturday night email that two university buildings that bear the names of slave traders will get new monikers, per The Washington Post. Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall, named for former university presidents who sold slaves in the early 19th century, will be renamed Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall until new names are chosen. Though recommendation to make the change came from DeGioia’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, the decisive push came from the more than 250 students and activists who organized a sit-in last Friday to protest the building names.
Though the name of an old building on an old campus seems like a rather anachronistic Civil Rights protest, it matters for two key reasons. First, the silent, everyday racial bias must receive as much notice as the shouted slurs and Yik Yak threats. And while it may seem obvious, a good first step towards showing your students you care about their safety, emotional or otherwise, is to stop celebrating people who committed racist acts. Bigotry can be even more intimidating when it is institutionalized, and Georgetown’s remedy is one that should be emulated.