In its Sept. 2 editorial “OSU showcases name changing gone wrong,” The Bulletin informs us that students at Oregon State University Corvallis have declared that they want to change the names of four buildings on campus. The four buildings apparently are named for a Confederate soldier, a man who owned a pro-slavery newspaper, a white supremacist and a coach who reportedly refused to integrate his team.
The Bulletin assumes that the reasoning and motives behind the students’ declaration are a desire to “cleanse history,” in the same tradition as the Soviets “renaming history and erasing people from it,” and that of leaders of the French Revolution, who “created a new calendar to mark a new age.”
The editors go on to ponder where this line of reasoning could lead: All roads and buildings named after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would need to be changed, because they were both slaveholders.
I see no evidence that the students are trying to cleanse or re-write history. I believe their real intention is to avoid glorifying individuals (by naming buildings after them) whose beliefs and actions actually defended the institution of slavery. They are merely being sensitive to any student who may be offended that the four men being honored did not just own slaves, but actually promoted pro-slavery views.
For example, can you imagine what an incoming African American freshman might feel when he/she goes to a class in a building named for someone who wanted to maintain the institution of slavery, even after the Civil War? Whose great-great grandparents would still be enslaved if it had been left up to those four individuals?
Can you see that by addressing this level of offensiveness, the students are not just being politically correct, but are being sensitive to the messages being sent on their campus?
Yes, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but the difference is that these men offered a new path for our country, one in which all men are created equal, and they worked to make this happen.
Their actions reflected this desire; they did not spend their careers defending the institution of slavery.
I would like to think that part of higher education is not only to learn the book knowledge of history, but to learn the lessons that come from it.
I feel that the evolution of our thinking as a society requires that we become more aware of the consequences of our words and actions, even down to the naming of our buildings and roads. People today are appalled at the direction our country has moved in, especially the callousness and brazenness with which some defend their extremist views.
Yes, we have freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. And I think the students are just trying to be responsible when it comes to what is spoken (or named) on their campus.
— Katherine “Lili” Alpaugh lives in Bend