Students, faculty and alumni examined university history and called for the renaming of several campus buildings, including the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, at a virtual public forum on Thursday.
“It is not enough to say that we are an institution that believes in justice and equity. We must act on those beliefs, even if that means rethinking, reconstructing or renaming the spaces and places of our university,” Toby Jenkins-Henry, an associate professor of higher education and director of the Museum of Education, said.
Addressing the Presidential Commission on University History, Jenkins-Henry said she wished to see the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center renamed, citing the former South Carolina senator’s history as a “staunch opponent of civil rights.”
“As a Black, native South Carolinian, when I see the name Strom Thurmond, it elicits feelings of violence, hostility and fear,” Jenkins-Henry said.
Sawyer McDuffie, the speaker pro tempore of the student senate, said the student senate had unanimously passed his recommendation to rename the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center last month, but the board of trustees was refusing to engage in discussion about the issue.
“I think it’s imperative that the commission note that the individuals that many buildings are named after on campus did not only make racist remarks or post something insensitive to social media; but rather these individuals, such as Strom Thurmond, took concrete steps to inflict treachery upon members of the Black community in South Carolina, and the United States as a whole,” McDuffie, a third-year political science student, said.
One of the provisions of McDuffie’s recommendation is the commitment to raise $10,000 to rename the fitness center, which is the same amount Thurmond contributed towards the building's initial construction.
The fitness center was not the only building students and faculty said should be renamed. Other buildings included the Wade Hampton residence hall and McMaster College.
Alumna Helen Knight, an organizer for RepealTheHeritageAct.org, asked the university to publicly endorse repealing the Heritage Act. Under the Heritage Act, the university cannot rename buildings memorializing historical figures without a two-thirds vote from both houses of the state legislature.
“Its actions are overreaching, wasteful and disrespectful to South Carolina’s local communities, including ours at USC,” Knight said.
The university’s board of trustees voted to rename Sims Hall, but the name will remain until the South Carolina legislature also votes in favor of renaming.
“Do right by our community and all the future students we hope will choose to become Gamecocks. Don’t leave an iota of doubt in their minds that we are truly a place where bigotry is discouraged and the dignity of all persons is respected, as the Carolinian Creed states,” Knight said.
This is the second public forum on building names. To view coverage of Tuesday's event, click here.