Presidential Commission on University History

In 2019, President Robert J. Caslen created the commission to examine and address historic context at the university, from evaluating and re-naming university buildings to broadening acknowledgement of key groups and individuals that have contributed to the university over time.

Purpose of the Commission

In his first official action as president, President Caslen established the Presidential Commission on University History on Friday, October 18, 2019. The commission is charged with the following tasks:

  • identify and include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard
  • conduct a comprehensive and constructive review of our campus history to include the naming of our campus buildings and generate a historical report to the president, which will also to be made available to the public
  • a list of recommendations to address new understandings that arise from the commission’s research
  • bring forward to the Board of Trustees a set of names of prominent African-American South Carolinians who could be considered for honorific naming of university buildings in the near future.

 

Commission Actions

UofSC Board of Trustees unanimously passed resolution requesting renaming of Sims Hall | June 21, 2020
Commission’s resolution to rename the J. Marion Sims residence hall endorsed by President Caslen | June 15, 2020
Initiated campus-wide review of building names | Spring 2020
Developed initial criteria to recommend name removal or how historical context can be added to existing name | Spring 2020
Commission established by President Caslen | October 18, 2019

Upcoming Meetings

Wednesday, October 14,  3-4:30 p.m. 
Monday, November 2, 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. 
Wednesday, December 2, 3-4:30 p.m. 

Agendas & Minutes

Presidential Commission on University History Meeting Agenda
Monday, September 14, 2020
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Type of Meeting: Microsoft Teams
Meeting Facilitator: Elizabeth West

I. Call to order
II. Roll Call
III. Updates from the Facilitator
IV. Reports – 11:40 p.m.

A. Subcommittees:
i. University History
ii. Names on Landscape
iii. Communications and Education

V. Adjournment – 12:30 p.m.

Presidential Commission on University History
Meeting Minutes

August 21, 2020

This meeting of the Presidential Commission on University History at the University of South Carolina Columbia campus took place virtually via Microsoft Teams. Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History and Director of Community Engagement and Service Learning, called this meeting to order at 1:02 p.m.

Next Meeting: September 14, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.

Kareemah Hosendove – Roll Call

Attendees: Robert Dozier, Jennifer Gunter, I.S. Leevy Johnson, William Hubbard, Andrea L’Hommedieu, Valinda Littlefield, Mercedes Lopez-Rodgriguez, Derrick Meggie, Cheryl Nail, Harris Pastides, Carla Pfeffer, Issy Rushton, Todd Shaw, James Smith, David Snyder, Robin Waites, Elizabeth West, Robert Weyeneth, Hannah White, Qiana Whitted, Julian Williams
Guests: Moe Brown, Natasha Hastings, Cheslie Kryst, Marcus Lattimore

Val Littlefield – Updates

  • President has issued a concise charge to the commission
  • New members have joined the commission


DISCUSSION


Subcommittee Reports

Jennifer Gunter – University History Subcommittee Report

  • Discussed need for hiring a grad student. One will be hired for Names on the Landscape Committee; discussed possibility of sharing with that committee. Elizabeth West mentioned that she has possible research funds that could cover the hiring of an additional grad student. Possible students were discussed.
  • Discussion of the priorities of the committee. Need to identify the gaps in published University histories. Also, need to understand the differences and overlaps with Names on the Landscape Committee. Should we be looking for potential building names?
  • Made list of groups that we know are missing from published histories and mostmemorialization. We understand that this is a partial list.
    1. African Americans
    2. LGBTQIA+
    3. Women (including faculty wives)
    4. Native Americans
    5. Latinos
    6. Asian American
    7. Pacific Islanders
    8. Jewish/Muslim/and other marginalized religions
    9. African
    10. Custodial and maintenance workers
    11. Other staff
    12. International student contributions and achievements 

Note - We need to keep in mind that students deserve to be a part of this process and that the process should be transparent.

Action Items

  • Create a shared document outlining the research and previous work that we know exists (Ward One app, Ghosts on the Horseshoe app, Slavery at South Carolina College website, previous students’ research, Historic Columbia’s research, and others)
  • Create a spreadsheet to track research

Recommendations

  1. Create a Google document that everyone can contribute to
  2. Begin a social media campaign to highlight significant individuals (one per month was suggested)
  3. Use the website to show progress


Andrea L’Hommedieu – Names on Landscapes Subcommittee Report

Recognized need to address the scope and goals of the subcommittee; need to determine if/how research overlaps with University History committee?

  • Discussed process for assimilating existing research, identifying gaps that need to be addressed, and recommendation for how the research should be coordinated and organized. Recognizing that resources are limited and acknowledging recommendations that students are involved in the process, the committee discussed the value of having dedicated faculty oversight beyond the committee.  Suggestions for oversight included: Lydia Brandt (SVAD), Thomas Brown (History), Bob Weyeneth (Public History), Allison Marsh (Public History), Jessica Elfenbein (History – department chair). Asked if Elizabeth West should serve on this committee also?
  • Understanding that this must be a very thorough and thoughtful process AND that students are eager for some progress, committee agreed to prioritize up to five names for research and use to build case studies that could help define future criteria.
  • In an effort to identify gaps, suggestion made to reach out to past students who previously worked on UofSC history research projects. 
  • Committee briefly discussed criteria that could be used to determine whether or not a name should be removed from a building (acknowledged changes could go beyond buildings to rooms, portraits, sculpture housed in university settings). Criteria included: association with the university; time period of association and correlation with time of naming; position of power, did they actively oppress other people, contribute to the progress of the university, state, etc.; how does “repentance” factor in? do we consider a person’s evolution over time?
  • Suggestions that renaming could go beyond a connection to USC, especially for African Americans who were not admitted to the university between the end of Reconstruction and 1963. Some names mentioned briefly: Althea Gibson, Celia Saxon, Joe Frazier, Eliza and Harry Briggs, Sr.

Action Items

  • Research processes and criteria at other institutions
  • Send suggestions for criteria: Create a document to develop criteria to assess; have this well developed for discussion at next meeting 
  • Research template: Create a document to gather consistent information about each researched name
  • Gather basic information on each of the five names identified

Recommendations

  1. Create a common space for committee to share documents and information (possibly through Teams)
  2. Ask the full committee about the possibility of a faculty member overseeing research through a course buy-out or other method
  3. Begin research on five names: Thurmond, Cooper, Hampton, Thornwell, Lieber (?)

Harris Pastides, President Emeritus
Suggestion – Think about names as replacement names in addition to naming unnamed places on campus.

Julian Williams, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Update – funding for graduate student will be funded from the University Strategic Plan

Elizabeth West – Communications and Education Subcommittee Report

  • Commission email is: uofschistorycom@mailbox.sc.edu
  • Email account is accessed by Kareemah Hosendove and co-chairs Littlefield, Pastides, and West, and will be used for all official electronic correspondence to and from the commission
  • The initial website for the commission is www.sc.edu/historycommission; website will go live after commission approval
  • Website will include a mechanism for the submission of comments and suggestions
  • The university web team has also proposed a design for an expanded site that would provide expanded, diverse, and inclusive content on university history; creation of the content to be discussed later; see attached screen shot of proposed design
  • Members also discussed developing strategic communication pieces, potential educational components of its mission, possible public forums to provide additional avenues for participation by university constituents, need for the development of a timeline of work, and clarification of its function and tasks


Valinda Littlefield

  • Future meetings are open to small groups
  • Creation of venues (town hall format) for comments/suggestions
  • General public permitted to send suggestions via the Commission email address, mail to: uofschistorycom@mailbox.sc.edu

Robert Dozier, Immediate past-president of the UofSC Alumni Association
Suggestion – Connect with Wes Hickman for use of the Alumni Associations to get information out to the public

Harris Pastides
Suggestion – reach out to constituents such as Ward One representatives and other groups

David Snyder, Clinical Associate Professor of History and Global Studies and Faculty Principal, Carolina International House
Suggestion – outreach to student groups such as AAAS

Elizabeth West
Suggestion – Research other institutions who are managing similar projects that relate to Naming Landscape projects

Hannah White, Student Body Vice President
Update – creation of University History app that creates awareness


Statements from UofSC Alum/Athletes

Moe Brown – Introduction of alum athletes

Cheslie Kryst – PowerPoint Presentation

  1. Renaming the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center
    a. Questionable legacy
    b. Student-funded $38.6M
    c. Worthy replacements
  2. Creation of Fundraising Campaign #GamecocksforInclusion
    a. Devote funds to DEI efforts
    b. Replace funds lost following name change
    c. Aid in student recruitment effort

Statements from alum athletes to support the name change of Strom Thurmond Wellness Center:

Forever to thee. Three powerful words that unite Gamecock Nation win, lose or draw; triumph or failure; nationality or race. Forever to thee. As I address you all as a former student-athlete, the same words again offer the opportunity to unite our great institution. Our goal is simple - correcting the ill effects of Systemic Inequality experienced by minorities.

One thing that most SAs understands as essential to getter better daily – is to be consistently self-aware and correcting. And as it relates to renaming of facilities due to the representation of such being offensive, I insist that our University proceed with the same approach.

Sen. Thurmond beliefs were consistent of the bigot, racist and segregationist mindset that was deeply rooted in the south. So much so, that he was the presidential candidate of the segregationist States’ Rights Democrats in 1948. Beyond this mindset, there is also the issue consistent accusations of misogyny and other inappropriate behavior towards women. As a collective, these characteristics are not consistent with the virtues we claim of this institution.

Personally, I am a South Carolina country boy through and through. I love my state and country. That said, I have experienced racism directed to me throughout my entire life. And, what’s consistent throughout our history, is that black folk progression moves at the speed of white folk inconvenience. Now, I am sure that statement may rub some people the wrong way. That’s good – inconvenience. Think about walking into a facility bearing a man’s name who never wanted you to be there, then being questioned to as of why do you want to it removed? Think about walking into a store, movie, hotel, office and consistently have to predict how you should conduct yourself to disarm others due simply to the color of my skin. Think about asking for a flag whose fundamental genesis represent the enslavement of folk that look like me to get removed. And must say, I am proud that our university for leading the way in this effort to successfully do so. Finally, I ask, do you not see these truths to be inconvenient for folks who look like me?

This Commission’s work is honorable. I challenge everyone of to be thorough and display empathy to do what’s right. To do so will prevent the necessity of such commissions moving forward. Not only in the matter of Sen. Thurmond but all other names creating division among Gamecock Nation. I close by evoking the Great Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have the power shorten that process in this moment. Thank you for your time. Forever to thee.

Ever since I began working in the international business space--whether its at corporate retreats, professional networking events or even black-tie galas--I have been asked by senior leaders at Fortune 100 companies, foreign government officials, lawyers and regular folks in Asia, Europe, Africa and even the United States about South Carolina's history with the confederacy as well as the dynamics of people like Mr. Thurmond with the African-American community.

They are always shocked to find that people that fought for segregation and white supremacy are honored and revered with buildings and other honorifics. My hope is that we can do what South Carolinians do best...lead our country by changing the narrative from what has divided us, to what can unite us--and that starts with respecting the voices from throughout our community. UofSC is among the best Universities in the world, if we want to wear a mantle that the rest of the world will follow, it starts with acknowledging with what is holding us back.

Let us re-name the facility with a name that represents and celebrates ALL Gamecocks across our proud history.

I come from a family of immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. While athletics was always a staple in our home, academics always came first. My parents always emphasized the importance of getting an education no matter my athletic abilities. At the age of 18, I left NYC to attend the University of South Carolina on a track and field scholarship. I was unaware that the things that I had read and studied about in history books wasn’t so much history. I was shocked to find that not only was the confederate flag still flying atop the building on the state capitol, but it was also clear that we as black people weren’t even welcome in certain places of business. It was even more disheartening to know that there were buildings on campus memorializing people that I knew once owned slaves or would have lobbied against me even attending the university. I remember walking into Strom Thurmond a few times and having an uneasy feeling. Where possible I would avoid going into the building, knowing the history behind Strom Thurmond the man. While Carolina was a place that I called home for three and a half years, it never FELT like home knowing racists and bigots were memorialized and celebrated on campus. I know that my fellow black students also felt this way, and I hope that we can change this for the current and future students of all backgrounds, as every student has a right to feel celebrated and welcome on a campus they call home.

The battle we are having about removing Strom Thurmond’s name from the Wellness and Fitness Center isn’t just about Thurmond; we’ve had this same argument time and time again. For years, we watched some South Carolinians wave the Confederate flag, host weddings at plantations, and honor countless individuals like Strom Thurmond who have a history of advocating for segregation and opposing civil rights legislation. These and other symbols and places and people hold special meaning for some in this state; however, it is undeniable that these same items and people have racist histories that we cannot erase or forget. I celebrated the moment when the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina State House because it symbolized an acceptance of the horrific history the flag holds for black people and a refusal to honor the hatred and division it represents. I will also celebrate Thurmond’s name being removed from the Wellness and Fitness Center at my beloved University of South Carolina. I am confident that university leadership and the South Carolina legislature will come to the same realization about what Thurmond represents as they did with the Confederate flag. It’s just a matter of when. I hope that “when” is sooner, rather than later.

Good afternoon.

I pray that you and your families are well and safe as we navigate through this pandemic. We have the power to beat this if we continue to work together by making selfless decisions every day for the greater good. Wear your mask, save a life.

I love the University of South Carolina with all my heart. This great institution provided me with an opportunity to play the sport I love, receive a great education, and impact thousands upon thousands of young lives across America. In my darkest days, the collective spirit of South Carolinians lifted me up. And for that, I am forever grateful.

My goal today is not to bash or tarnish the legacy of a human. I understand better than most that nobody is perfect. Strom Thurmond’s legacy and ideals have been well documented. What happened in the past is in the past. But I am here to shed light on why having his name on a particularly important building is a problem for me, and thousands of others who look like me.

During the summer months when my teammates and I had time on the weekends we would frequent “The Strom” to go play basketball or swim. Most of them were black and I found it odd that nobody seemed to care that we were walking in a place that he would have never wanted us to enter. So, I did not care.

Fast forward almost ten years later. No longer immature and naive I am serving as the director of player development for the football team. Part of my job was recruiting so when prospective student-athletes came on campus I would show them around. As I chauffeured a family through the wellness center someone recognized the name and in a voice of disbelief uttered “This is ok for y'all?” My response was what came naturally, “That's just how it is”. After that interaction, I learned for the first time that Mr. Thurmond was succeeded as governor by James F. Byrnes who famously said, “niggers will never walk the halls of this school” What school? My high school. In Duncan, South Carolina. “That's just how it is”. It is just ok to celebrate the legacy of someone who would have never allowed my grandad or dad to step foot in that building. It’s just normal.

Well, I am here to say that it is not ok. It is unacceptable. And to anyone who thinks otherwise is a part of the problem. This is not about me or Mr. Thurmond. It's about the fourteen million tourists that come to our capital every year. It is about prospective students in the future who visit USC that might feel as if they do not belong because of that constant reminder they walk by every day. It is about our staffers who work tirelessly to recruit student athletes but must find creative ways to explain why it is ok for their black son to enter that building. There have been times I just skipped that stop altogether to avoid the questions. It's an obstacle that impedes our advancement as a society. It is about the message we are sending to the world. We cannot run from the fact that Mr. Thurmond’s ideals were divisive. That is not equality. That is not inclusion. That is not empathetic. And most importantly, that is not what we represent as a University.

I hope this heightens your awareness and illuminates some of the challenges this building has brought mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. “That's just how it is”, is now unacceptable. It is time to move forward.

Thank you.

 Jennifer Gunter, Director of SC Collaborative on Race and Reconciliation
Suggestion – present to larger forum to the general assembly who has the ability to make the decision on the name change of Wellness Center

Robert Dozier
Suggestion – work with SGS in the short term regarding the process of making the decision on name changing

William Hubbard, Dean of the Law School, UofSC
Suggestion – Research misunderstanding regarding the naming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center
Suggestion – interview Dr. Palms regarding Strom’s donation to the University

Jennifer Gunter
Response – Strom donated $10k. He was not a historical figure during the naming because he was still alive.

Action Item

  • Hire someone to begin research process

Adjournment

The meeting was adjourned at 1:15 p.m.

 

Recorded by Kareemah Hosendove,
Executive Assistant
Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  

About the Commission

August 20, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I write today to update your charge of work for the Presidential Commission on University History.

As you are aware, I originally charged the commission on Friday, October 18, 2019 with the specific objective of leading a research effort that will help us to better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors, and local community members about the complex history of the university. I also asked the commission to identify and include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard.

Outcomes in that initial charge were to include:

  • A historical report to the president (also to be made available to the public); and,
  • A list of recommendations to address new understandings that arise from the commission’s research.

The commission is tasked with conducting a comprehensive and constructive review of our campus history to include the naming of our campus buildings. From the previous charge, “it is the university’s intent through this commission to study and better understand the histories of the people whose names adorn our buildings.”

From the very beginning of this commission and effort, my goal has been to encourage and foster open, candid dialogue so that all views are expressed and considered. I believe it is so important to have open, inclusive, and respectful discussion; which leads to a level of understanding; which leads to a degree of empathy and ideally, results in some ‘common ground’ from which we can move forward together.

Per recent direction from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, you should bring forward to the Board of Trustees a set of names of prominent African-American South Carolinians who could be considered for honorific naming of university buildings in the near future. This list should include Richard Greener, Ernest Finney, Robert Anderson, James Solomon and Henrie Monteith Treadwell, among others.

Your deliberations and analysis of buildings on campus should reflect a consistent set of standards, a careful and deliberate balancing process, and an acknowledgment of the complex intersection between the lessons of our past and present. You should deliberate the merits and faults of the individuals honored in light of the present-day norms of our university.

Please know that at this crucial moment, your work is more important now than ever before. Your updated charge is:

Provide a written report to me that contains the following information:

  • Description of meetings held, including dates and attendance
  • A summary of the commission’s work
  • Names of buildings reviewed and for each building reviewed provide:
    • Summary of why the building was reviewed
    • Historical summary of the individual for whom the building is named
    • An argument for retaining present naming
    • An argument against retaining present naming
    • Final commission recommendation on naming based on the preponderance of merit
  • Further, provide a separate final naming report to include:
    • Ranked list of naming suggestions, which should include consideration of prominent African-American South Carolinians
    • Historical biography for each individual
    • Argument for the individual recommendation
    • Argument against the individual recommendation
    • Commission’s final recommendation based on the preponderance of merit

In order to accomplish the updated charge, you should use appropriate due diligence, including:

  • Public meetings to solicit input from students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders
  • Written comments from stakeholders
  • Historical research and analysis to support your conclusions

Your report should also explore options for interactive applications, programming, exhibits, or academic courses to communicate a complete and full history for all new UofSC community members.

You may conduct these actions concurrently and provide key recommendations as they are developed and a consolidated report when complete.

Ultimately, your final report will provide a valuable retrospective of the history, values and ideals of the University of South Carolina. We should recognize that the history of our university and the process of naming buildings is imperfect. I ask that you work deliberately to make your report as complete and accurate as possible; and in a manner that ensures open, candid dialogue so that all views are expressed and considered.

Thank you for your time and commitment in this matter. I look forward to receiving your report.

Respectfully,

Bob Caslen

Co-Chairs

Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History
Harris Pastides, President Emeritus
Elizabeth Cassidy West, University Archivist, South Caroliniana Library 

Members

Jessica Y. Allison, Administrative Coordinator to the Deputy Athletics Director for Internal Ops and Risks Management
Christian Anderson, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Higher Education
Stacey Bradley, CPA, MBA, Senior Associate Vice President, Student Affairs and Academic Support
Rob Dozier, Immediate Past President, Alumni Association
Walter EdgarPh.D., Professor Emeritus, History
Jennifer Gunter, Ph.D., Director, SC Collaborative on Race and Reconciliation
William Hubbard, Dean, UofSC School of Law   
I.S. Leevy Johnson, Community Leader, Johnson, Toal & Battiste, P.A. 
Andrea L’Hommedieu, Director of Oral History, University Libraries
Mercedes Lopez-Rodriguez, Ph.D., Chair, Latino and Hispanic Faculty Caucus
Derrick Meggie, Director, State Government and Community Relations
Cheryl Glantz Nail, M.Ed., Community Relations Director, Columbia Jewish Federation
Carla Pfeffer, Director, Women’s and Gender Studies
Karen Roberts, Associate Vice President, Development Operations and Services
Issy Rushton, Student Body President
Todd Shaw, Associate Professor, Political Science
James Smith, Executive Director, Military Programs and Strategies
David J. Snyder, Ph.D., Clinical Associate Professor of History and Global Studies, Faculty Principal, Carolina International House
Robin Waites, Executive Director, Historic Columbia
Thad Westbrook, UofSC Trustee
Robert R. Weyeneth, Ph.D., Professor, History
Hannah White, Student Body Vice President
Qiana Whitted, Professor of English, Director, African American Studies Program
Julian R. Williams, Vice President, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion