The University of South Carolina Presidential Commission on University History has released its final report.
The final report is detailed, rigorous and scholarly. The report includes the commission’s recommendations for the renaming of campus buildings and spaces as well as recommendations for proactive initiatives to further embed the contributions of historically marginalized communities into the narrative fabric of the university’s history.
I would encourage everyone in the UofSC community to read and engage with the report. This important document is a step towards the creation of a university that truly affirms individuals of all backgrounds.
As I read the report, I was struck by how difficult it was to digest. Especially the sections concerning the legacies of the men whose names adorn many of our campus buildings and spaces. At times, I found myself vacillating between equal parts anger and sadness. It wasn’t surprising to learn that many of our campus namesakes held deeply racist and white supremacist views.
What was challenging, was learning the extent that these men used every ounce of their power and influence to deny basic human rights, civil rights and freedoms to African Americans. Some were wholly committed to justifying, maintaining and upholding the abhorrent and degrading institution of slavery while others did everything in their power to ensure that the University of South Carolina remained segregated and a “whites only” institution. Also startling, was the extent that these men, through their powerful positions, bent the university and the state to their will to maintain slavery and segregation.
While it is easy to think of the institutions of slavery and segregation as antiquated ideals of a bygone era, what is often missed is the extent that slavery and segregation was enforced upon the bodies and psyches of African Americans. And the fact that the legacies and impact of slavery and segregation are still with us to this day, especially in South Carolina.
As a Black man, I fully understand what our university community is telling us regarding the problematic and dehumanizing nature of these building names. As a public flagship university, I believe that we have a duty to ensure that our physical spaces on campus fully reflect our values of inclusion, equity and diversity, while also affirming our diverse multitude of faculty, staff and students.
As an institution of higher education, we must be committed to truth, historical accuracy and scholarly inquiry. The path forward will not be easy. It will require us to center voices and lived experiences of communities that have never truly been centered at the University of South Carolina. It will require us to invest time, energy and resources towards true equity and inclusion. It will require us to truly listen to each other. As a university, we must fully reckon with this repugnant university history with a keen eye for how the past influences, and impacts, our present and future.