The University of South Carolina was founded in 1801 as South Carolina College. Located in Columbia, a block from the state's capitol, it was an institution of higher learning primarily for the Palmetto State's sons of the aristocracy.
From its inception, the University was the province of white men from wealthy families.
That hold was temporarily broken during Reconstruction, when African American men could attend from 1873 to 1877. In 1894, the University admitted white women for the first time. After decades of court battles, the University admitted African American men and women in 1963.
Throughout its two centuries, the University honored presidents, faculty, wealthy donors, military leaders and other favorite sons by naming campus buildings in their honor and by plaques and other commemorations on these buildings.
As they stand now, these commemorations as reflections of the past are isolated from the historical context that would provide fuller understanding of the lives of the individuals whose names mark the University landscape as well as the cultural and political context for such commemorations. An examination of commemorations through more analytical lenses has become necessary, as today, many have argued that honoring certain individuals with named buildings and monuments on campus is offensive.
In addition, these names honor individuals with varied histories and disparate ways in which they treated minority groups, particularly those of African American descent. Also, many argue the commemorations now run afoul of the Carolinian Creed, adopted in 1990, which states the University should strive to embrace diversity, discourage bigotry, and promote an inclusive campus.
As background, the Carolinian Creed is inserted here as a statement of our core University values:
As a Carolinian:
- I will practice personal and academic integrity;
- I will respect the dignity of all persons;
- I will respect the rights and property of others;
- I will discourage bigotry, while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions;
- I will demonstrate concern for others, their feelings, and their need for the conditions which support their work and development.
Some consider these historical figures “men of their times.” In acknowledging their contributions, others viewed and still view many of their actions, policies, values, and social stands as abhorrent. The efforts now being considered are the leading edge of what will be a broader, ongoing study and discussion about equity and inclusion on campus and the University’s historical and current interactions with the surrounding neighborhoods in the city of Columbia.
The recommendation for a Commission on University History was made to President Harris Pastides in 2019, before he concluded his service as president. The recommendation was made by the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which was advisory to him on matters of campus climate, race and reconciliation, and related issues. Several other universities had authorized similar commissions. President Pastides knew that the work of the commission would mainly be done under the next University president and presented the recommendation to Robert Caslen when he assumed the role of University president.
On October 18, 2019, President Caslen, in one of his first actions as president, created the Presidential Commission on University History to lead a research effort aimed at helping the University better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors and the local community about the complex history of the University, to include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard.
This effort was to include an academic and research examination of the historic context in which many of these individuals lived and their impact on the University, the state and the community around them. The effort would include a specific analysis of individuals and buildings and a broad acknowledgement of key groups and individuals that have contributed to the University over time.
The commission recognizes the enormity of its task. In the University’s 200-plus year history, we find no instance where a University building was renamed due to the questionable conduct, morals or actions of its namesake. In fact, we were challenged to find a time where this type of review occurred.
The time and energy required of members to complete a proper review is enormous. More than 70 entities were identified for review. The commission narrowed its initial focus on those buildings and areas based on concern and urgency, complexity, or lack of knowledge of the namesake.
The commission reaffirms its work goes beyond the public focus of building renaming. The University of South Carolina is a mature, vibrant institution of higher learning with multiple platforms that capture its rich history. The commission endorses the continuation of this important work, to capture this rich, diverse and evolving history of the University of South Carolina.
Previous history collections do not fully capture the contributions of women, African Americans, Native Americans and other underrepresented groups to the foundation, growth and maturation of the University. We applaud the commitment from the Office of the President to this endeavor.
The documented history of this University is not perfect; the Horseshoe, for instance, was built by enslaved labor. Many periodicals do not reflect this. For a considerable period in the University’s history, women could not enroll. African Americans were also barred from enrollment. And the University’s growth negatively impacted historic, black neighborhoods adjacent to the campus.
This history must be acknowledged and chronicled as a correct reflection of our University.
When the president signed the initial charge, he invited 17 individuals with distinguished careers, discipline expertise and diverse perspectives to form the commission.
The president also reached out to three of these distinguished scholars and administrators to co-chair the commission. Dr. Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History, President Emeritus Harris Pastides, and University Archivist Elizabeth Cassidy West all accepted that invitation and responsibility.
Over the next several months, the commission grew to its current membership of 33, all appointed by the president, for the unique and valuable expertise and perspective they could bring to the group.
The initial charge requested two specific outcomes:
- An historical report to the president, also to be made available to the public; and,
- A list of recommendations that address new understandings that arise from the Commission’s research.
On August 20, 2020, the president issued an updated charge to the commission, benefitting from a year’s worth of work, and provided greater detail and context.
The updated charge requested:
- A 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 on the preponderance of merit
- Also, provide a separate final naming report to include:
- Ranked list of naming suggestions, which should include consideration of prominent African American South Carolinians
- An historical biography for each individua
- An argument for the individual recommendation
- An argument against the individual recommendation
- The commission’s final recommendation based on the preponderance of merit
The commission began with three co-chairs and 30 other members, appointed by President Caslen.
The co-chairs are:
- Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History
- Harris Pastides, President Emeritus (resigned May 21, 2021)
- Elizabeth Cassidy West, University Archivist, South Caroliniana Library
The commission consists of three subcommittees:
- Communications and Education, chaired by Elizabeth Cassidy West and Harris Pastides
- Names on the Landscape, chaired by Andrea L’Hommedieu
- University History, chaired by Jennifer Gunter and Valinda Littlefield
The members of the commission are:
- Dan Adams, University Board of Trustees
- Christian Anderson, Associate Professor, Higher Education
- Jessica Y. Allison, Administrative Coordinator to the Deputy Athletics Director for Internal Operations and Risk Management
- Stacey Bradley, Senior Associate Vice President, Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support
- Maggie Carson, President, Graduate Student Association
- Melissa DeVelvis, Commission Research Assistant
- Myisha S. Eatmon, Assistant Professor of History
- Walter Edgar, Professor Emeritus, History
- Jessica Elfenbein, Professor and Chair, Department of History
- C. Edward Floyd, MD, University Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus
- Jennifer Gunter, Director, SC Collaborative on Race
- William Hubbard, Dean of the School of Law
- I.S. Leevy Johnson, community leader, attorney with Johnson, Toal & Battiste, P.A.
- Jonathan Leader, SC State Archaeologist, SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology
- Andrea L’Hommedieu, Director of Oral History, University Libraries
- Mercedes Lopez-Rodriguez, former Chair, Latino and Hispanic Faculty Caucus
- Derrick Meggie, Director, State Government & Community Relations
- Carla Pfeffer, Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies; Director, Women's and Gender Studies
- Karen Roberts, Associate Vice President, Development Operations and Services
- Issy Rushton, Student Body President
- David Seaton, Special Advisor to the University Board of Trustees
- Todd Shaw, Associate Professor, Political Science and African American Studies
- Harry Singleton, Adjunct Professor, African American Studies Program
- James Smith, Special Assistant to the President – External Affairs
- Robin Waites, Executive Director, Historic Columbia
- Robert R. Weyeneth, Professor, History
- Hannah White, Student Body Vice President
- Qiana Whitted, Professor of English, Director of the African American Studies Program
- Julian R. Williams, Vice President, The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- Kareemah Hosendove
- Shalama Jackson
- Pam Pope
- Melissa Spring
- Matthew Warthen
- Jeff Wilkinson