For Trustees, Learning Comes Before Deciding

Aerial of Davidson College campus showing lots of campus buildings and trees

Davidson College’s trustees are learning from the experience of other colleges and universities when it comes to how buildings and places on campus are named.

A special committee of trustees, whose members range from a business owner to a congressional staffer to an advertising executive, was tasked in the fall of 2020 with working toward a college policy on naming and acknowledgment.

They spent their first months on one thing: homework.

The group has heard from historians about the broader history and impact of placing names on facilities and entire institutions. They also have consumed extensive readings about how other institutions have approached the topic.

“No decisions have been made. We have been sponges for knowledge,” said Erwin Carter, the committee’s chair. “We have already learned so much from Dr. [Hilary] Green, our public historian, and from other school’s experiences and insights. We want to share that information with our community.”

Green, an historian, served as Davidson’s Vann Professor in Ethics during the ’20-’21 academic year and will continue to work with the college in seeking a better understanding of the institution’s past and the implications for its mission today. She teaches at the University of Alabama where her recent scholarship examines the often-unacknowledged history and legacy of slavery on college and university campuses.

The most important lesson that the committee drew form their consumption of information was that the board and the college must start with a policy and a process around naming. They need that framework within which to examine names of public spaces and any questions raised about them.

Carter said the committee plans to organize gatherings beginning in fall 2021 where they can share what they have learned and discuss it with the Davidson community, locally and across the country.

“It’s critically important that our community join us as this work goes forward,” Carter said. “We want them to know when and how they can participate.”