Follow AISD’s example when considering renaming campus buildings

Emily Severe

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

As AISD addresses controversy following the decision to rename five district buildings, I’m reminded of this line from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” I can’t help but reconsider Juliet’s ill-fated question. To understand what is in a name, we need to understand the cultural context and significance of both the name and that which bears the name.

Times are changing. The University is no exception to the national movement to redefine spaces and alter names, as indicated by the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue and the growing number of cries to rename Robert Lee Moore Hall. We choose names to honor and align ourselves with an individual and to represent the ideals of our community. In this respect, AISD sets an example for constructive change that UT should follow. As UT continues to evolve, I urge both students and administrators to reflect on lacking representation at UT by looking past counterarguments which undermine inclusivity.

The University’s black student population is only about 5 percent of total enrollment. As the University works to increase the enrollment of underrepresented populations, it is important to approach conflicts surrounding the physical representation of history on campus with consideration for the gravity of the context names evoke. We can’t separate that which makes a figure racially controversial from any positive contributions they made to the University. The work of the institution to enhance representation by altering the campus environment should be completed not to appease but to recognize those who deserve recognition.

Look past tired counterarguments to the perceived erasure of history and listen to the voices of students when creating progressive reform. Set an example for other universities by making it known that the names emblazoned on buildings housing a generation of young leaders also represent the ideals and true identities of this University. 

Those who oppose renaming feel that changing a name or removing a monument will do more to erase history than alter the present. But changing a name won’t rewrite a past fraught with hideous injustice, and it is a necessary step toward accurate representation. This should not be viewed simply as an overindulgence of political correctness. A name change doesn’t diminish the contributions of those initially honored — it sets a new precedent for inclusivity by involving UT as a leader in the movement for accurate representation.

The most convincing counterargument for school districts and universities across the nation centers around the labor and economic resources involved in renaming a building or institution. In Austin, the estimated cost of changing a high school’s name is $77,000, which some feel would better serve students if redirected toward academic needs.

It’s clear that in the long run, making the effort to move forward with changing a building’s name puts an institution at an advantage. The recent trend in name changes, such as Yale changing the name of Calhoun College, and the rise in prevalence of the argument for the removal of statues indicates that universities will continue to be called upon to make similar changes in the future. 

By getting ahead of the curve, the University also creates a campus climate that is supportive of students from all backgrounds, in turn enhancing the caliber of the academic environment here at UT. That which we call RLM by any other name would smell even sweeter.

Severe is a Business Honors and Finance junior from Round Rock, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @emilysevere.