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VCU students weigh in on plan to remove Confederate names, symbols

'It's a positive step in the right direction,' VCU grad says
Posted at 8:57 PM, Sep 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 01:27:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond will so be de-commemorating 16 buildings and symbols named after members in the Confederacy.

The board of visitors at VCU voted unanimously on Friday to remove 16 different references on campus following "an extensive review." [Scroll down to read the complete release.]

"We’ve learned a lot from this process, and it is clear that the values represented by these namings and symbols run counter to the values to which we are committed — inclusion, equity and diversity," VCU President Michael Rao said. "The symbols of the Confederacy have come to impede our mission to serve all and that’s why I have recommended we no longer honor those symbols."

The process began nearly three years ago when Rao formed a committee to examine items on campus related to the Confederacy.

"I really didn't know that they had any, but I feel like it's a positive step in the right direction," said Brittany Washington, who graduated from the university in 2014.

Washington said with the school's student population being so diverse, the plan would help ensure every student and staff member feels valued.

"I feel like in a way they are going to be happy and just walk around campus and not feel like their history is haunting them whenever they see the names and statues of Confederate people," Washington said.

Earlier this summer, the Monroe Park statues along with the Howitzer statue were removed after protests and demonstrators pulled them down.

"As someone who came from like a small area, I was taught a lot of misinformation about that subject and I was ignorant and I had to learn and check myself and make sure I was getting the right information," VCU freshman Hannah Diment admitted. "I feel like everybody has to go through that process, because it's just kind of ingrained into to us, you know. It's been that way for however long, so it's not a big deal. But it is a big deal."

Diment said she is glad VCU is taking action, but hopes they will allow more students and staff to be involved moving forward.

In addition to the de-commemoration, the VCU Board of Visitors also approved to name the School of Arts building after Murry DePillars, who served as dean of the School of the Arts from 1976 to 1995.

The Harrison House will also be renamed by the African American Studies Department.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Board of Visitors on Friday approved three resolutions that de-commemorate several buildings on campus named for members of the Confederacy, name a School of the Arts building after a former dean and allow the Department of African American Studies to rename its academic building.

The historic vote follows an extensive review of Confederate symbols reflected in plaques, building names and statues on and near campus.

“Expert historical analyses reveal a more complete story of the meaning of all of these memorials and commemorations that we cannot ignore nor accept,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D. president of VCU and VCU Health System. “We’ve learned a lot from this process, and it is clear that the values represented by these namings and symbols run counter to the values to which we are committed — inclusion, equity and diversity. The symbols of the Confederacy have come to impede our mission to serve all and that’s why I have recommended we no longer honor those symbols.”

The board approved a resolution that includes the de-commemoration of McGuire Hall, Baruch Auditorium, the Ginter House, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel, the Tompkins-McCaw Library and the Wood Memorial Building — all spaces with namesakes who were members of the Confederacy. The resolution also calls for continued work with the city of Richmond to remove the Fitzhugh Lee monument, the Joseph Bryan statue and the W.C. Wickham monument in Monroe Park and the Howitzer statue near Park and Harrison streets. Each of the honorees had ties to the Confederacy. (The Monroe Park monuments and the Howitzer statue were removed this summer.)

In August 2017, Rao charged a work group to conduct an extensive audit of symbols of the Confederacy, racism, slavery, white supremacy and other items of an exclusionary nature on VCU’s campuses following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Students, faculty, staff and alumni had raised concerns about the presence of these symbols at VCU. The President’s Committee on Confederate Commemoration engaged with the community through numerous interviews, presentations and small-group forums.

That work led to the formation of the Committee on Commemorations and Memorials to make recommendations to approve memorials, commemorations and de-commemorations to the president. On July 7, the committee voted on 18 recommendations and solicited public feedback. The committee received more than 3,000 comments on its recommendations. The recommendations and comments were shared with Rao on July 24.

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president for inclusive excellence at VCU and chair of the Committee on Commemorations and Memorials, said while it can be easy to dismiss statues, plaques and other commemorations as “just symbols,” it is important to recognize that “symbolism matters.”

“Removing Confederate symbolism from our campuses, which still yields a de facto segregation in terms of how that historical era gave rise to the education and health disparities we see today, may also serve as an opportunity for reconciliation and restoration,” Nasim said.

The board also approved a resolution that calls for the naming of a School of the Arts building after Murry DePillars, Ph.D., who served as dean of the School of the Arts from 1976 to 1995. DePillars is credited in large part for the school’s growth in student enrollment and its ranking as a top arts school in the nation.

The board also approved a resolution removing the name “Harrison” from the current Harrison House to clear the way for the Department of African American Studies to commemorate and name the building. VCU’s Department of African American Studies was launched in 1972 as the second department of its kind in Virginia.