Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., this month announced it is removing the “Confederate” inscription from one of its residence halls, mirroring efforts by institutions of higher education to create more inclusive environments on their campuses.

Confederate Memorial Hall was built in 1935 and was originally used as a dormitory for women studying to be teachers. It’s construction was partially financed by a $50,000 gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

This Sept. 30, 2003, file photo, shows the exterior of a dormitory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., is inscribed with the name Confederate Memorial Hall. The private university announced on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, that it has struck an agreement to pay $1.2 million to United Daughters of the Confederacy to remove the name from the building. (AP Photo/The Tennessean, Ricky Rogers, File)

This Sept. 30, 2003, file photo, shows the exterior of a dormitory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., is inscribed with the name Confederate Memorial Hall. The private university announced on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, that it has struck an agreement to pay $1.2 million to United Daughters of the Confederacy to remove the name from the building. (AP Photo/The Tennessean, Ricky Rogers, File)

But, the name, which is inscribed on the pediment of the building, has been a symbol of exclusion and divisiveness, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said in a message to the campus.

“Many generations of students, faculty and staff have struggled with, argued about and debated with vigor this hall. We have asked time and again how can we have this symbol in the sky—a pediment is intended to draw a gaze upward—as part of our aspirational goals?” Zeppos said. “Our debates and discussions have consistently returned over these many years to the same core question: Can we continue to strive for that diverse and inclusive community where we educate the leaders that our communities, nation and world so desperately need, with this hall as so created? My view, like that of so many in the past, and so many in our present, is that we cannot.”

The school began attempts to remove “Confederate” from the hall’s name back in 2002 but was legally blocked by the UDC. In 2005, however, a Tennessee appeals court gave the school the go-ahead–but only if Vanderbilt repaid the UDC’s original gift at today’s value, which amounts to $1.2 million.

In the intervening years, the building has been referred to as Memorial Hall. Now, with the help of anonymous donations–for this sole purpose–an official name change has been made possible, Zeppos said.

The move is being praised by many on the campus.

“I commend the chancellor and the Board of Trust on their decision to remove the name of Confederate Memorial Hall. This action demonstrates the administration’s attentiveness to student needs and concerns, as well as sets a great precedent for advocating on behalf of those who may feel marginalized on our campus,” Ariana Fowler, Vanderbilt Student Government president, said in a statement. “This is an excellent next step in the direction of becoming an institution that not only admits diverse students, but ensures their care and support—one that is eager to eliminate any barriers that may stand in the way of such a goal.”

Zeppos said to ensure the decision has lasting meaning, the school plans to establish a major annual conference on race, reconciliation, and reunion.

The administrator added, “In removing this pediment, we are not seeking to rewrite history or to avoid the questions that should be asked of Vanderbilt and of our nation. We are realizing the truth—that we have the privilege every day to teach, to learn, and, indeed, to make history.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO