AASCU Innovations Exchange
Your Source for Innovations in Public Higher Education

Project Title:Hasbrouck Complex Buildings Renaming Institution Name:SUNY New Paltz Innovation Category:Institutional Change Processes Project Director:Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, VP Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion, and Shelly Wright, Chief of Staff & VP for CommunicationContact Information:845-257-3172 & 845-257-3291, pachecot@newpaltz.edu; wrights@newpaltz.eduWebsite:https://www.newpaltz.edu/hasbrouck-renaming/
Project Description:

In August 2017, SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian charged the College’s Diversity and Inclusion Council with leading the process to review the names on six buildings in the residential Hasbrouck Complex on our campus, and to develop a recommendation either to retain the names or to remove them and rename these buildings. The recommendation of the Diversity and Inclusion Council would then be brought to the College Council and ultimately the SUNY Board of Trustees.

The buildings were named for original Huguenot patentees who were the first European settlers in New Paltz in 1678. The earliest generations of these families in America owned slaves during the period of slavery in New York State. In New York, slavery ended in 1828, the same year that the precursor institution to SUNY New Paltz was founded.

The building names have been contentious on campus for many years, and official action to review them was long overdue. Many viewed these building names as perpetuating the legacy of slavery, and some students, particularly students of color, expressed their discomfort about living, eating and sleeping in halls with these names. Others felt that to remove the names would be to erase history. We also needed to understand our full history including the experiences of the region’s indigenous people as well as the lack of clarity around whether the buildings were named for original settlers who enslaved people or the descendants who no longer practiced slavery.

Objectives:
  • Foster a transparent, open, respectful and evidence-based dialogue to analyze and build awareness and understanding of historical and contemporary issues surrounding these names and northern slavery, with the help of scholars including our own faculty members;
  • Model problem-solving and community building that is sadly elusive in much of contemporary society. Develop an understanding of the pros and cons of either retaining or replacing these building names;
  • Raise awareness of important issues of race and racism in our society and serve as a role model for inclusive civil discourse on a complex, contentious issue;
  • Such efforts are consistent with our educational mission and our mandate to provide access to New York citizens of all backgrounds. 
Outcomes:The Diversity and Inclusion Council held multiple forums, educated the community about our history, and solicited broad input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, Huguenot descendants, and the leadership of Historic Huguenot Street, a National Historic Landmark commemorating the early history of Huguenot settlement in North America. The Council also studied how other colleges and universities have dealt with the legacy of slavery on their campuses. 

The Diversity and Inclusion Council reached its recommendation that the building names be removed and replaced while recognizing that there will never be unanimity of opinion on such a deeply rooted and complex topic. That recommendation honors the strongest sentiment expressed by students during the process and our objective to be intentional in our practice of inclusion The Council was particularly moved by the belief expressed frequently by students of all races that no one should be asked to live, sleep, and eat in buildings honoring people who enslaved others. The current names make some students feel unwelcomed and not at home here, when a sense of belongingness is a key factor in students’ success.

The Diversity and Inclusion Council paid careful attention to the history behind these building names, the history and legacy of northern slavery, the views and perspectives of a broad array of stakeholders on our campus, the positive contributions of generations of Huguenots, and a focus on future students and the importance of supporting and welcoming all students to our campus, consistent with our institutional values.

During the process, we learned that campus records from the early 1950s clearly document that the names were originally assigned to campus buildings explicitly to recognize the first Huguenot settlers in New Paltz. This is an essential point, because it counters the long-held view that the building names honored the long history of generations of descendants during their 350 years in the Hudson Valley. We don’t plan to review names that were assigned post-emancipation, such as the buildings named for previous principals when we were a Normal School (1885-1938) or former campus presidents. That’s because while their ancestors may have owned slaves, our purpose is not to discredit descendants for the actions of their ancestors.

The Diversity and Inclusion Council recommended, in addition to changing building names, that we “not simply replace one history with another,” but do a better job of telling a more fulsome history in a transparent way, including that of the enslaved Africans, the indigenous Munsee displaced by Europeans and the many contributions of the Huguenots and their descendants in the post-slavery era. To achieve that goal, the Diversity and Inclusion Council proposed a “contemplative space” on campus where current and future students and visitors can gather to reflect on and discuss the many elements of our history, informed by educational programming and materials that shape classroom discussions and impact campus tours and student and faculty orientations. This suggestion is consistent with the frequent feedback from students that they want to know more about local history and the history of campus building names.

President Christian strongly and fully supported the Council’s recommendation. “I regard making such a change now as consistent with our community values of fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment, including taking active anti-racist steps such as this,” he said.

The SUNY New Paltz College Council, a committee of governor-appointed volunteers plus the elected student body president that has the authority to name buildings on campus, approved the resolution to remove the Hasbrouck Complex buildings with a 4-3 vote on Feb. 21, 2019. The Council then considered replacement names recommended by a study group on alternate building names for the Hasbrouck Complex formed in November 2018.  The study group included faculty, staff, student, alumni and community members, including a Board Member of Historic Huguenot Street. The College Council unanimously passed a resolution to assign new names to the Hasbrouck Complex buildings on March 6, 2019. The selected names carry local meaning, a theme that drew strong support from campus-wide survey responses from more than 3,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, including Huguenot descendants. The new names are Peregrine Dining Hall and Shawangunk, Ashokan, Awosting, Mohonk, and Minnewaska for the residence halls, drawn from a local bird-of-prey and area lakes and geological features. 

A single resolution to remove and replace the names on the Hasbrouck Complex buildings was put forward by the College Council for consideration by the SUNY Board of Trustees, who have the final authority on campus building names. The SUNY Board of Trustees voted unanimously on March 20, 2019 to approve a resolution to remove the names from the Hasbrouck Complex buildings on our campus and replace them with the new names put forth by the College Council. The new names will go into effect on campus for fall semester 2019.
Challenges/Problems Encountered:

Lessons Learned:

  • Kept our focus on the educational value of this endeavor and our mission to serve a broad and diverse population.
  • Avoid a potential campus crisis by listening to our students’ concerns and proactively engaging in a transparent, open, respectful evidence-based dialogue about a complex, contentious issue that was trending across the nation
  • Study how other colleges and universities have dealt with the legacy of slavery on their campuses, as this situation was not unique to our campus. 
  • Look for ways to accommodate multiple views and values and treat people with different viewpoints respectfully. Through the process, some people changed their positions; others did not change their minds but came to understand that this issue is more complex than they originally believed.
  • Communicate with both internal and external audiences and keep SUNY System Administration and government leaders informed throughout the process. Repeat your message often and through different channels.
  • Enlist the voices of students, alumni, staff, faculty, and community members to share rationale and viewpoints. Use their feedback to inform next steps and communicate with audiences about those steps to maintain transparency of process
  • Involve governance structures where they exist to help provide evidence and/or support for change. For example, a student government survey provided strong evidence of support for the name change. Student and faculty governance resolutions helped convince College Council members of the importance of this change to the campus community.
  • Work within existing rules, structures and constraints. Educate audiences about those factors. Change sometimes happens slowly and through a deliberative process. Some, especially students, thought the college president could just change the names from one day to the next when the ultimate decision rested with the campus College Council and the SUNY Board of Trustees.
  • Share credit and success.
  • Recognize how deeply entrenched some people’s views are about race and racism. Our nation and our institutions of higher education have more work to do.
  • Once a decision is made, work proactively with those who are disappointed in the outcome to share rationale and attempt to bridge difference. We learned that some only read the headlines that the names would be changed and did not know about our plans to expand our educational offerings to include more information about the Huguenots and the contributions of their descendants.  
Potential for Replication:The potential for replication of this process is high as taking on this task coincided with increased national discourse and conflict about statues and building names on university campuses that commemorate or memorialize slavery in America. This also comes at a time that our country continues to wrestle with racial inequities and injustices and the legacy of our nation’s history with slavery.
Additional Resources:
CEO-to-CEO Contact:Donald P. Christian , Presidentpresident@newpaltz.edu
(845) 257-3288
Date Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019