The Daily Gamecock

Letter to the editor: Repeal the Heritage Act

Repeal the Heritage Act applauds The Daily Gamecock editorial board’s comments on the shameful and dishonest inaction of the USC administration, both with respect to renaming campus buildings and in response to broader calls for change from the campus community.

Reporting done by The Chronicle of Higher Education in October show the administration’s intent to ignore years of requests from alumni, students, faculty and community members for the university landscape to reflect the diverse reality of USC’s population and the principles of the Carolinian Creed.

Since George Floyd’s murder in June 2020, the USC community has increased its calls for change, recognizing the hostile environment created by campus structures named after 13 individuals who supported slavery or segregation. 

Last year, former President Bob Caslen made the declaration that the J. Marion Sims women’s residence hall, named after a torturer of enslaved women, was to be renamed — however, Caslen never officially renamed Sims. While other universities have reckoned with racist figures honored on their campus grounds, our university has failed to meet the moment.

USC leadership attempted to quiet community discontent by establishing the Presidential Commission on University History to review the potential renaming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, Wade Hampton women’s residence hall, Thomas Cooper Library and others that have been the focus of ongoing efforts of students, faculty and alumni of the university.

When President Harris Pastides returned to his role at USC following multiple failures by Caslen, we and many community members were hopeful that he would respond to the Presidential Commission’s recommendation by taking action.

Unfortunately, The Chronicle emails reveal that long before the presidential commission released its recommendation in July, leaders had determined they would do nothing in response.

While disappointing, this outcome is sadly not a surprise to us and the many USC community members who had hoped to see long-overdue change. As the state flagship school, USC has a responsibility to its entire community and to all South Carolinians to provide an unbiased, inclusive educational environment. Despite this, the university leadership has continued to serve only the stakeholders it finds most important — older, white male donors. This includes the majority of USC’s directors, many of whom have publicly shared their support for the pro-segregation and pro-slavery figures currently honored on campus.

To all other members of the community, leaders including Pastides have offered, at best, silence, and at worst, outright lies.

We agree with The Daily Gamecock’s editorial board that “it is unacceptable for an institution funded by taxpayer and tuition dollars to hide from public scrutiny.” In doing so, USC’s leadership disregards the voices of the vast majority of its community and constituency — including those who will form the next generation of alumni donors — and it does so at its peril.

Repeal the Heritage Act advocates for South Carolina’s communities to be able to make and implement independent decisions regarding their public monuments, building names and other structures in ways that give credence to the history, values and people of their communities.

South Carolina’s Heritage Act requires state legislature approval for such decisions, including USC’s campus building name changes, but progress is happening to change that — the South Carolina Supreme Court has recently deemed this requirement partially unconstitutional.

We join The Daily Gamecock in calling on Pastides and the administration to lead with integrity, allowing the full USC community — regardless of race, gender identity, financial status or political connections — to have a voice in the future of our university.

USC leadership often cites the Heritage Act as the reason it cannot make changes to building names, but this is in fact false; the university has full power to request a change to these names from the state legislature but has never done so.

The greatest obstacle to justice at USC is not the Heritage Act, but the university administration’s selfish refusal to serve its own community in good faith. 

 —Repeal the Heritage Act organizers