The Daily Gamecock

Commission on University History discusses Sims renaming, adding its research to website

<p>&nbsp;Elizabeth West speaks during the town hall meeting on Monday April 12, 2021.&nbsp;</p>
 Elizabeth West speaks during the town hall meeting on Monday April 12, 2021. 

The Presidential Commission on University History hosted a virtual town hall on Monday to discuss its progress so far and next steps. 

Since August, the commission has held monthly meetings and four public forums, passed a resolution to rename Sims Hall and published nine criteria for building name recommendations. 

The commission has faced backlash in recent months for its lack of progress in regards to renaming campus buildings that honor racist historical figures, such as the J. Marion Sims residence hall and Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center. This backlash culminated in an open letter criticizing the commission's inaction published by former Student Body President Issy Rushton and former Student Body Vice President Hannah White.

The commission addressed the concerns about Sims Hall specifically during Monday's town hall. According to commission co-chair Elizabeth West, the next step in the renaming process is "beyond the commission's charge."

"That is something that has to come from the university board and administration to work with the legislature," West said. 

The Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution to request the South Carolina General Assembly rename Sims Hall in June. 

"What is not limited by the General Assembly is our ability to tell the full story of our history," said James Smith, a member of the commission and special assistant to the university president. "And I know that the work of this committee, and commission rather, could be a catalyst for change in the Heritage Act."

Todd Shaw, commission member and associate professor of political science, said he understands the student perspective, but that what the commission is doing is "laying groundwork" for things to come. 

"It is important as a first step to document this history and to document the need for inclusion," Shaw said. 

The commission said it plans to make its final report on its first phase to University President Bob Caslen on July 1. This report will include recommendations for the renaming of campus buildings, for continued university history research and for actions the university can take to better reflect on and teach its history. 

The state legislature normally adjourns in May, so it may not vote on renaming buildings until it goes back into session in 2022

What comes after this final report remains unclear, according to West.

"We will certainly be interested in hearing from President Caslen how he wants the commission to continue because certainly the work that needs to be done is both immediate and long-term," West said.

To better convey the history of the university, the commission will also meet with IT next week to work on uploading the large amount of the research it has compiled onto its website. The plan is for the website to become a one-stop-shop for links and resources concerning the university's history, and it will feature work by students on the subject as well. 

The commission is also looking to display information about who a building is named after on the buildings themselves.


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