Rename T.S. Painter Hall to better commit to an inclusive campus

Sanika Nayak

According to Interim President Jay Hartzell’s message about a more diverse and welcoming campus, UT is “reconsidering how to best reflect our values, both in the symbols and names on our campus, and the openness with which we tell our history.” 

T.S. Painter Hall is still named after an openly racist University president. What values is the University choosing to reflect? 

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death and the gaining momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, students and alumni approached the UT administration with eight demands for transformative change. Among them was the demand to rename Painter Hall, along with other ill-named buildings around campus.

Hartzell responded to these demands by agreeing to rename Robert Lee Moore Hall, but left Painter Hall as a testament to its racist namesake, with a few changes. Administration hopes to “honor Heman M. Sweatt in additional ways” by creating a Heman M. Sweatt entrance to the building, building a statue of Sweatt near the entrance and adding an exhibit in the building to educate passersby about the monumental Supreme Court case, Sweatt v. Painter. 

These minor and frankly performative changes are nowhere near the transformative actions that were demanded of the University. Forcing Sweatt to become a subset of Painter Hall is demoralizing and patronizing — the 1950 Supreme Court case Sweatt v. Painter created a foundation for the eventual desegregation of schools across the country. In order to truly reflect anti-racist values on campus, UT must rename Painter Hall in its entirety as a tribute to Sweatt’s monumental contribution to the civil rights movement. 

Senate President Alcess Nonot said the eight demands included the renaming of Painter Hall because it was something students have been talking about for years.

“If you are a BIPOC student at UT and you’re walking into a building named after someone who wouldn’t have taught you just because of the color of your skin, that is a huge problem and it could affect your academic performance,” said Nonot, a human development and family science, and biology senior. 

This is not the first time that columnists at the Texan have addressed Painter Hall. The University has ignored this clearly racist memorialization until this summer, and they still refuse to give Sweatt the homage he deserves. When asked about Painter Hall, UT’s media relations manager Matt Pene said that UT’s mission is to teach and educate on the ugly parts of the past. 

“The best way to do that in this case was to maintain the name of Painter Hall, one of several buildings that memorialize former (University) presidents, and to also celebrate Heman Sweatt — the student who had the courage to challenge Painter and make UT a better place –– in that space,” Pene said in an email. 

It makes no sense to create an exhibit to tell the story of this case, which very clearly portrays Painter on the wrong side of history, and still allow the building to be named after this obviously racist person. What’s more, education should go hand in hand with transformative change. Why not rename the building to honor Sweatt and still have an exhibit that gives context to the Supreme Court case?

Briannna McBride, director of Black Presidents Leadership Council, agreed that the symbols on campus are a reflection of the University. 

“Yes, you can showcase the story because Heman Sweatt made such a difference for Black students at UT, but there are better ways of honoring (Sweatt) than making an entrance or a statue next to a building named after the person who tried to oppress him,” McBride said, a government, and communication and leadership senior. “It’s unacceptable that Painter is still going to be a hall on campus.”

Instead of memorializing a racist, respect the demands of students' voices and rename Painter Hall entirely. The only way to create a more diverse and welcoming campus is by being conscious of who we choose to commemorate and who we choose to condemn. 

Nayak is a speech, language and hearing major from Austin.