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Principles drafted for naming and renaming structures, spaces at W&M

Draft design and naming principles available for public comment through Aug. 22

William & Mary’s Principles of Naming and Renaming Working Group is seeking feedback on design imperatives and principles it has drafted around the naming and renaming of buildings, spaces and structures on campus.

“We feel that this is really important for the campus,” said Warren W. Buck III M.S. '70, Ph.D. '76, D.Sc. ’13, chair of the group and special advisor for equity in the 21st century to President Katherine A. Rowe. “It's a transition from a campus of the past to the campus of the present and into the future. We’re taking care so that decisions can be made in a systematic way. That tells a more holistic story of William & Mary and this country.”

The three design imperatives and 12 naming principles will be posted on the working group’s website for public comment through Aug. 22. Respondents will be able to comment on each one. After the working group has reviewed the feedback, Rowe will take a final draft of the recommended principles and imperatives to the Board of Visitors — which has the authority to name and rename structures at the university.

If approved by the Board, the design imperatives would be incorporated into W&M’s master plan and campus design process. The principles would guide the board in decisions it makes to name or rename elements in the campus landscape.

This draft was developed through deliberations in the working group, incorporating feedback received in six listening sessions, Buck said. The working group — which includes administrators, alumni, students, faculty and staff — has been meeting two times a week since June 30. It hosted listening sessions with students, alumni and faculty and staff. Buck discussed the process with the Board during a virtual meeting Aug. 3.

The Board asked Rowe in June to establish the working group. In her charge to the group, Rowe asked its members to codify principles for naming and renaming buildings, spaces or structures and developing commemorative/explanatory markers throughout campus; review remaining visible manifestations and iconography of the Confederacy and recommend actions to address, rename or contextualize them; prepare a list of appropriate new names for buildings; and conduct a comprehensive landscape review to identify other structures that may not be part of a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“Much progress has been made over the past decade to build a fuller and more accurate narrative of our past, led by the deep and nuanced research of the Lemon Project,” Rowe said in a memo to Rector John E. Littel P ’22. “More work remains to fully realize William & Mary’s values of belonging and integrity. Yet because the work to date is substantial, some near-term steps can be thoughtfully advanced.”

At the Board meeting, Rowe thanked the working group for working both swiftly and deliberatively – and engaging diverse community voices and perspectives. She noted W&M has been renaming building and structures for centuries. “What’s different now is that we are developing principles that foreground our present values, bringing consistency and intentionality to the process that W&M hasn’t had before.”

Reflecting on the working group’s current draft, Rowe added, “Getting community feedback on this draft is critical. For anyone thinking about whether it’s worth their time to comment, please do. Names express both who we were and who we want to become. As with many universities, our history of naming reflects structural racism and bias. By approaching naming holistically, W&M can counter those effects, creating a more welcoming and inclusive built environment. This is just one of many kinds of intentional change that make us stronger as a community.”

The working group must submit a final report to Rowe by February 2021. However, it will be providing Rowe with initial proposals in the coming weeks. For instance, it has already developed recommendations as to buildings and spaces that might be renamed. But for now, the focus is on finalizing the principles.

“The issue at present is will people agree to the way we're approaching this and the principles that we propose W&M use to make these decisions?” Buck explained.

The entire effort will make the W&M story more inclusive, Buck said, and will make for a more welcoming environment for everyone on campus.

“We are near ground zero — the beginnings of the major elements that frame this country,” said Buck, referencing the university’s proximity to where representative government started and where the first enslaved African people arrived in the country. “This is why we want to tell a fuller, more truthful story of those who have been forgotten and those who have been used to build without being credited.

“By rethinking the design of our campus, we address the disparity of all underrepresented peoples, which includes not only African Americans but many others — we really want to open up and tell the whole story. There’s a tremendous number of people who have not been given any credit, given dignity, and were suppressed. By rethinking the built environment, we acknowledge the contributions of so many who have gone unrecognized.”