In February, the Auburn Board of Trustees announced that two residence halls in The Village would be renamed. Eagle Hall will be renamed in honor of Josetta Matthews, the first Black student to graduate from Auburn — earning a master’s degree in 1966, and a doctorate in 1975, both in education — and the first Black faculty member.
Tiger Hall will be renamed in honor of Bessie Mae Holloway, who was the first Black Board of Trustees member, and the second woman, serving from 1985-2000. The dedication ceremony for Holloway will be held April 16.
With all due respect to the families of those being honored, this is not enough.
With every building name or removal, it feels like a band-aid over the real problem, a crumb being tossed our way to appease our hunger for just a little while longer.
While we are still angry, the anger has simmered down to a quiet resignation. Black students are well aware and have always been aware of the kind of school Auburn is. They know what kind of things the University will tolerate, and what they’ll do in order to keep up the already flimsy facade of how much they care.
Renaming buildings is great. Attempting to honor those who made contributions to the school is great.
But when it comes at a time when we’re asking for more, when we’re demanding more, or even seeking correspondence with the President of the school that addresses the demands of our Black students — renaming buildings is performative.
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Renaming buildings is the least that can be done, and it is simply something that is far past due.
To give the administration a bit of credit, there will be Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training introduced and implemented in Fall 2021.
We’ll see how that goes.
But, even then, some training doesn’t quite address the culture of Auburn that makes the few Black students we have feel so uncomfortable here.
Like we said, renaming buildings is great. We are happy to welcome Holloway and Matthews back to the Auburn Family by honoring them. If only their contributions weren't being held to the same standard as those of George Wallace.
Of course, when talking about this we can’t neglect to mention that George Wallace appointed Holloway to serve as the trustee from the 1st Congressional District until 2000.
Despite this, buildings named after both of them shouldn't exist on the same campus, especially in such close proximity to each other.
Auburn, you have to choose one.
It could be argued that without him appointing her, Holloway wouldn’t be getting honored in the first place. Which is true, but consider this:
Whatever Wallace did or said later in his life, it doesn’t matter.
You can denounce racism, but the people who experienced it — whether it be actual policies or just someone spewing hate from their mouth — can’t un-experience those things. People don’t remember Wallace as that guy who said some racist things, did some racist things, but later renounced it three years before he died.
They remember him as he was, and that doesn’t look good on Auburn’s behalf, especially when peer institutions like the University of Alabama at Birmingham have renamed their hall named after Wallace.
There’s been a petition up for nearly a year calling for its removal. Administrators, you owe it to your current students, your former students and your future students.
How are Black students expected to believe in the administration's future plans, if it can't at least remove one name off of one building? It won't fix any current issues or meet the demands of the student activists at Auburn For Change, but it will be as meaningful a gesture as honoring trailblazers such as Bessie Holloway and Josetta Matthews.
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