Oregon State University, Corvallis buildings named after alleged racists

Marcus Trinidad Associate News Editor

Corvallis buildings, parks allegedly named after racists

Commonly used buildings and parks in Corvallis and Oregon State University campus are facing criticism for being named after alleged white supremacists and racists.

With about 85,000 people living in Benton County who visit Avery Park, Arnold Dining Hall and Gill Coliseum regularly, Joseph Orosco, the OSU peace studies director, believes the community may unknowingly be keeping those historical figures whose names adorn the properties and their ideas of a ‘white utopia’ alive.

During his four years at OSU, Steve Clark, Vice President of University Relations and Marketing and chair for the Architectural Naming Committee for OSU, has never had a request to rename Arnold Hall or Gill Coliseum, though he did not discount the possibility if credible evidence of racism was brought forward.

“It’s not good to simply make assumptions (…) but if there is explicit evidence of racism then it would be possible to consider renaming the buildings,” Clark said.

Orosco has written several articles for the Anarres Project that explored the historical significance of Benjamin Arnold and Joseph Avery, whose names adorn an OSU dining hall and a Corvallis public park, and examined how their radical ideals shaped America’s culture today.

“To ignore (their values) is to whitewash history and it is really blind to reality,” Orosco said.

Those beliefs were later perpetuated and supported by OSU, according to Orosco.

According to Larry Landis, the director of OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Arnold was the third president of OSU, and a former confederate soldier. During his tenure as president he created a gray military cadet uniform and a cap that seemed to be modeled after the Confederacy’s uniform, Landis said.

According to Landis, a lot of settlers of Oregon came from the southern or border states, and some also brought slaves with them even though the Exclusion Law of 1844 banned the settlement of African Americans in the territory.

Although Arnold never had explicit documentation he shared the values of the Confederacy, Landis said that it would not be surprising if Arnold shared those values while he was president at OSU.

“A name is just a name until you know the significance of the history behind it,” Landis said.

Arnold was appointed to be president by bishops of the South Methodist Episcopal Church. Orosco believed that it is possible that Arnold shared a similar belief as the bishops in order to become the president.

“The original vision of OSU was something that was not open to (minorities) like me. It raises a question many students are asking, ‘What does it take for a person like me to be here?’” Orosco said.

Orosco said the white supremacist values and pride for the Confederacy already had been used to justify oppression and violence in order to promote their agenda.

Orosco cited Dylan Roof, a man who had a vast amount of confederate memorabilia and committed a mass shooting in a historically black church, as a modern case of how symbols of the Confederacy can keep the noxious ideologies of its institution alive.

According to Orosco, continuing to have those symbols seems to validate those values of anti-immigrant and anti-black, and people rally around those symbols to support their views.

“The fact we aren’t ashamed of these symbols and names means we aren’t recognizing the history of what the confederacy actually stood for,” Orosco said. “When we’re thinking of names for public spaces we want it to be reflective of our community and the values we want to push for in the future.”

Universities across the country are already removing statues and renaming buildings that have ties to white supremacy or a confederate past.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill renamed Saunders Hall which was named after a Ku Klux Klan member and the University of Texas removed a statue of Jefferson Davis who was the President of the Confederate States of America.

Currently students at the University of Oregon are trying to rename a building on campus named after a Ku Klux Klan member.

Having a building carrying negative values, according to ASOSU Director of Campus Affairs Isamar Chavez, makes it impossible to honor certain individuals and coincides with OSU’s and Corvallis’ commitment to inclusivity.

Chavez said that the anti-black sentiment of the Confederacy goes directly against the mission statement of the university.

“The names of the buildings can be justified by others—but it shouldn’t. The (OSU) mission statement includes all aspects to promote justice, and if we can’t do that on our own campus then how can we do it in other communities once we graduate?,” Chavez said.

Chavez said it is easy for students to be unaware of these issues, as she was unaware of OSU’s history when she transferred to the university. She said it made her think that the world is not as positive as she thought it was when she was growing up.

“Maybe there needs to be an acknowledgement of the reality we live in and how history plays a crucial role in our communities. Now that we know about (our history), what are we going to highlight?” Chavez said.

Senior sociology major Jesseanne Pope has been working with those inside and outside of the OSU community to ensure collaboration between different groups. They said that ASOSU has been involved in trying to rename Avery Lodge and they have worked with Luciana Leite who has been working off-campus in trying to get people connected and get the names of buildings changed.

According to Pope, the blind allegiance to pride and patriotism starts so young that it prevents critical thinking. The lack of questioning of our history and personal beliefs leads to ideas such as white supremacy and racism, and criticizing of it shouldn’t be unpatriotic,Pope said.

“We’re socialized so young to be almost unhealthy about how proud we are of our country and history when we don’t even know why—because of that, we are proud no matter what,” Pope said. “But we can be proud and be critical at the same time.”

Pope said that the lack of minorities in Oregon and at OSU can be traced back to the institutional laws that targeted minorities.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, but as a white person, it’s my responsibility to have this conversation,” Pope said. “The only way to dismantle white supremacy is to get white people to talk about their social identity.”

Despite the progress in inclusion and diversity of OSU, according to curator and archivist of the Oregon Multicultural Archives Natalia Fernandez, the controversial building names can be used to inform us on who we are today.

Fernandez believes even though OSU has some buildings named after questionable figures, the university has made progress by naming Tebeau Hall and Halsell Hall after former African American OSU almuni, almost as a form of healing and reparation for the past.

“(Building names) are part of the bigger context, and the values of the university are reflected through that,” Fernandez said. “Naming or renaming a building can be a starting point to a bigger conversation about what’s happening on campus.”

Honoring Bill Tebeau’s legacy was one of the main reasons for giving the building that name, according to Clark, but he also said that naming the building after Tebeau cannot make up for the past.

“You can’t reconcile for past misdeeds (…) But we can honor what he achieved and what his legacy has done for others,” Clark said.

Tebeau was one of the first African American graduates of OSU and according to Clark, it was unfortunate he suffered from seclusion, he was still committed to a career in engineering while aspiring to teach young students how to succeed.

Clark believes that there is no better place than OSU to honor Tebeau.

If there is a request, Clark said that there is nobody alive now who has personally spoke with Arnold and Gill and got explicit proof about possible racism.

Clark believes that comprehensive research needs to be done before the buildings can be renamed.

“Such an evaluation needs to be done comprehensively and in an inclusive way,” Clark said.

In order to rename a building, the name must meet the criteria set by the committee and then approved by OSU President Ed Ray. Buildings are usually named after donors, faculty or alumni who have made significant contributions to OSU or their community.

According to Clark, he believes renaming a building based on someone’s past history might be unprecedented at OSU but he plans to meet with Orosco sometime this month to discuss the possibility.

“Professor Orosco is very knowledgeable about the subject and I look forward to meeting with him,” Clark said.

When it comes to assessing the overall body of work and if they should be honored, Orosco said it is important to understand the overall ‘gist’ of their lives.

Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, but according to Orosco, he made contributions for freedom and justice that outweigh his negative values.

But although Thomas Benton may have led to Oregon’s statehood, according to Orosco, he ultimately wanted to create an institution that protected slavery and promoted white supremacy. He even noted how Martin Luther King Jr and Linus Pauling, both Nobel Peace Prize winners, do not have a spotless moral record.

“Everyone has bad things about them,” Orosco said. “No one is perfect and morally pure.”

Orosco believes that if OSU does rename Arnold Hall or Gill Coliseum, it will be important to educate the public before making the decision and to replace it with a name that embodies civic duty and other positive values.

[email protected]

Was this article helpful?