Student organization People for PMA discussed their grassroots effort to rename Robert Lee Moore Hall to the Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy building during a town hall Tuesday evening.
Robert Lee Moore, a former UT mathematics professor, was an outspoken segregationist at UT during the 20th century. His well-documented racism and discrimination included refusing to allow African American students into his class once UT desegregated.
People for PMA is a group of students who want students, faculty and staff to refer to the building as the PMA Building. During the meeting at the Engineering Teaching Center, panelists said the current name is a reminder of Moore’s racism and his legacy does not belong on campus.
“Continuing to name this building after a man who is antithetical to what we value at the UT community … sends a message to us that we value his accomplishments more than we do inclusion in our community,” said Elizabeth Gutiérrez, a panelist and People for PMA member. “We find that unacceptable.”
Gutiérrez, an astronomy senior, said the student movement found it difficult to have the University change the name so they decided to organize a grassroots renaming instead.
“We ourselves are just not going to refer to it as RLM and instead use PMA,” Gutiérrez said. “Since (we began referring to the building as the PMA), we have seen students across campus, faculty and staff shift from using RLM to PMA in their formal communications, in their class syllabi and just in conversation.”
Physics graduate student Suzanne Jacobs, a panelist and People for PMA member, said the initial discussions about changing the name of the RLM building began in October 2017 with widespread student support, but the University did not rename the building,
“We can let the name stand as a symbol of where the politics of the University are, and if as a student body we collectively rename it, that sends a powerful message in and of itself,” Jacobs said.
Caitlin Casey, a panelist and assistant astronomy professor, teaches in RLM and is a member of the CNS Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She said she supports the student-led movement by addressing the issue in class on the first day and putting “PMA (RLM)” on her syllabi, as well as encouraging other faculty members to do the same.
“I just treat it as a factual manner on that first day of class,” Casey said. “(I say) ‘I support (People for PMA) … the building was named after a well-known, renowned UT professor who was clearly racist, sexist and antisemitic.’”
During the event, math professor Mike Starbird said the accusations of sexism against Moore were questionable and people should note Moore was not successful in promoting racism among his students.
Physics graduate student Madisen Holbrook said she supports the renaming of RLM because regardless of Moore’s contributions as a mathematician, the name of the building is damaging to students of color.
“If you’re a new student in PMA, and you come into the building, and you look him up on Wikipedia, in the intro paragraph … it talks about the fact that he was a racist,” Holbrook said. “How is that going to make you feel if you’re a student of color?”