Oregon State University President Ed Ray announced Monday that he has decided to rename Avery Lodge and Benton Hall on the Corvallis campus on grounds that their namesakes had historical links to racist beliefs.
Ray also announced that he will not change the names of Arnold Dining Center or Gill Coliseum, two other buildings that were under consideration.
The announcements follow a months-long process by the university of gathering historical evidence about the four namesakes of the buildings and hundreds of public comments.
"The preponderance of evidence gathered by the scholars’ report and this naming review process — and shared by other historians in the past — indicates that Joseph C. Avery’s views and political engagement in the 1850s to advance slavery in Oregon are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values," Ray wrote in a message to the OSU community announcing the change.
Ray also said in his message that Benton Hall and its annex should be renamed to make it more clear they are named for the community in Benton County, which funded the construction of the building, rather than the Missouri senator, Thomas Hart Benton, for whom the county is named. Benton advocated for the westward expansion of white people at the expense of Native Americans.
"The current name of the building does not make this distinction clear. It is my judgment that the name of Benton Hall should be changed to a name that honors the contributions of community and county residents who believed in and invested in higher education early on."
Ray also said Benjamin Lee Arnold, the namesake of Arnold Dining Center, may have been raised in a slave-owning family and served in the Confederate army, but there was not sufficient evidence to rename the building.
“It is not clear whether Arnold privately or publicly held or espoused discriminatory views, however, his contributions to the institution are evident and notable. As president, the college grew and women students and faculty were welcomed, nearly a century before Ivy League schools enrolled women. The college admitted and graduated its first Native American students during this time, as well. … It is my judgment that the preponderance of evidence supports retaining the name of Arnold Dining Center.”
Ray also noted that despite allegations basketball coach Amory “Slats” Gill, Gill Coliseum’s namesake, refused to integrate his team, the historical reports actually found evidence he had tried to recruit black players.
“I find that the scholars’ report and naming review process offers no evidence that Gill deliberately sought to keep the Oregon State men’s basketball team from becoming integrated. I also find no evidence that he held or expressed discriminatory views about African-Americans.”
Ray wrote in his message that the next steps will be during winter term when the Architectural Naming Committee will begin working with the OSU community to generate potential names for Benton Hall, the Benton Annex, which currently houses the university’s Women’s Center, and Avery Lodge.
Reactions on social media included people supportive of the changes and those who accused OSU of trying to erase history.
Cindy Filonczuk, who said she graduated from OSU in 1973, told the Gazette-Times she had classes in Benton Hall and was upset to hear it would be renamed.
“I'm outraged as to why the president of the university has the right to change the names of the buildings on campus. When I walked into Benton Hall years ago I never was bothered by the name nor ever looked into the name and thought it racist! Are we going to change it again in 100 years because of something or someone else decides the name is wrong for whatever reason?”
Andrea Haverkamp, an OSU graduate student who participated in the meeting on potentially renaming Arnold, said she thought all of the buildings should have been renamed.
“The decision not to rename Arnold Dining Center is intellectually weak and entirely unacceptable. Arnold studied slave economics. Arnold fought for the despicable Confederate Army and was willing to die to defend the enslavement of black people. He moved to Oregon after the war ended, to the only state which did not allow black people to live (inside the state). Any person can connect the dots and see what this name and what this man represent,” Haverkamp said.
Haverkamp added that she didn’t think the decision should have been made by Ray alone.