Ignoring Confederate history costs Vanderbilt $1.2M

Vanderbilt University has announced that it will dish out over $1 million to remove the word “Confederate” from an inscription adorning an on-campus residence hall.

“The residence hall bearing the inscription Confederate Memorial Hall has been a symbol of exclusion, and a divisive contradiction of our hopes and dreams of being a truly great and inclusive university,” Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos wrote Monday. “It spoke to a past of racial segregation, slavery, and the terrible conflict over the unrealized high ideals of our nation and our university, and looms over a present that continues to struggle to end the tragic effects of racial segregation and strife.”

The building, once known as “Confederate Memorial Hall,” will now be referred to simply as “Memorial Hall” after an ad hoc committee tasked with the renaming of buildings agreed with the Chancellor’s proposal.

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The name change, though, comes with a price, and a steep one at that. Following a 2005 Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, the school will be required to return a $50,000 donation made in 1933, but at its present value of $1.2 million.

Vanderbilt has been working towards the name change for more than a decade, starting in 2002 when it first attempted to nix the word “Confederate” from the building’s inscription, according to Vanderbilt News. The United Daughters of the Confederacy—the group that initially proffered the donation nearly 83 years ago—later sued the school successfully, forcing them to retain the original name.

In the years since, the building has been colloquially referred to as Memorial Hall in all official campus publications, but will now officially get its new name—a decision Vanderbilt’s “Board of Trust” fully endorsed.

“While we recognize and study our past, the considerations of our present and our future must guide our decision making,” Shirley Collado, chair of the Board of Trust, told Vanderbilt News. “This is a necessary and important step to continue to enhance the university’s ability to attract the most talented students and to ensure that our campus community is a welcoming place for all students to thrive and learn.”

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Similarly, the school’s student government president, Ariana Fowler, backed the decision, saying it sets a “great precedent for advocating on behalf of those who may feel marginalized on our campus.”

“This is an excellent next step in the direction of becoming an institution that not only admits diverse students, but ensure their care and support—one that is eager to eliminate any barriers that may stand in the way of such a goal,” she added.

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