OSU engages in building, place name evaluation process

(Left) Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Charlene Alexander and (right) Chair of the Architectural Naming Committee Steve Clark discuss the renaming evaluation.

By: Lauren Sluss Editor-in-Chief

President Ed Ray to announce final decision by Nov. 27.

Oregon State University is engaged in the process of evaluating four campus building names through the work of the Architectural Naming Committee. The four buildings under review are Arnold Dining Center, Avery Lodge, Benton Hall and Annex and Gill Coliseum. 

Questions and community concerns about the history of the buildings’ namesakes have been present for years, according to Director of Strategic Initiatives Scott Vignos. 

“I think it’s important to note that these questions about the names of buildings have been percolating for some time and in different ways in different forms,” Vignos said. “One of the fascinating parts of this process has been to go back and see article materials and see these questions evolve over time.”

One form in which these questions and community concerns manifested was through student demonstrations on campus in the winter of 2016. The self-named “Solidarity March” consisted of students carrying signs and marching throughout campus, garnering attention to these building names. 

“The demonstrations that occurred in winter of last year were important in terms of heightening community interest and bringing these questions to the surface,” Vignos said. “But the process to think about how we evaluate building names had been ongoing since 2015.”

The Architectural Naming Committee has been active since 2015 and engages in the evaluation of and recommendations about the names of buildings and places. The ANC consists of Vice President of University Relations and Marketing Steve Clark holding the position as chair, as well as the Provost Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Green, Associated Students of Oregon State University Vice President Radhika Shah, President and CEO of the OSU Foundation Mike Goodwin and OSU’s Director of Government Relations Jock Mills. 

“The committee (ANC) is being expanded to include faculty from the Corvallis campus, OSU Cascades campus and additional student participation,” Clark said. 

In spring of 2016, the ANC and the Office of Institutional Diversity worked to form the Building and Place Names Advisory Committee, now known as the Building and Place Names Evaluation Subcommittee. Larry Landis, co-chair of the subcommittee, has been working with co-chair Joseph Orosco and a group of scholars to research the history of each building’s namesake. The subcommittee developed the initiative’s website and organized six community engagement events. Another task the subcommittee was charged with was to work with the ANC to develop a renaming request evaluation process. 

According to Landis, the subcommittee’s development of evaluation criteria and processes is an effort to engage the community while keeping concerns of potential future building or place names in mind. 

“We decided to be proactive and say, ‘OK, we’re going to take a look at these (names) and develop a process in a very transparent way with as much community involvement as we can in a way where everybody hopefully feels comfortable or at least is willing to participate,’” Landis said. “We’re doing it in a safe space. We want to avoid shouting matches.”

Community involvement opportunities have taken the form of engagement events. The university has already hosted two community engagement events, and will host evaluation sessions for each building. This engagement is an integral part of this process, according to Clark. 

“At OSU and throughout the state of Oregon, community involvement is really important and that takes time to become informed and engaged and to share how one feels. It’s not an overnight process, and that’s why it’s taking so long,” Clark said. “But we think the length of time is not as important as the extent of community involvement and getting it right as to the greatest ability possible.”

“I can expect that not everyone is going to be pleased by what the decision is or the decisions are, but we think that everyone who wanted to have a chance to participate, to become informed, to share how they feel and what they’ve learned will have that opportunity to participate should they choose to,” Clark added. 

According to Vignos, the subcommittee and ANC worked to create the current renaming request evaluation process. This process was created with the intention to be used if future renaming requests surfaced. 

“When we were developing these criteria, we wanted to make sure that this is a process that could be applied in the future, that it’s not just evaluating the names of these four buildings and that there is a consistent process that we can apply when there are questions like this that arise,” Vignos said. “That’s why it was important to write the process from beginning to end.”

 The process consists of three steps. The first step is “submission of a renaming request”, in which any community member may submit a renaming request to the ANC containing an explanation for the basis of the renaming request, citation to references and attachments to support the renaming evaluation, according to the Building and Place Names website. 

Any community member is able to submit a renaming request. According to Clark, this form of engagement allows the community to draw upon personal experiences with the university. 

“A very good thing about this university is people are passionate about the university; they are passionate about their heritage of being an OSU Beaver,” Clark said. “They may have lived in some of these buildings like Avery Lodge, ate in Arnold Dining Center, taken classes or performed in Benton Hall, played a sport in Gill Coliseum, gone to events there or they might have graduated in Gill Coliseum. These are very personal times and experiences. We welcome that kind of interest, we welcome that kind of input throughout Oregon State. We listen to all stakeholders.” 

According to Vignos, community engagement and concern led the committee to decide to fully evaluate the four buildings without waiting for a formal request.  

“In the case of these four buildings, this is a great example of the university rather than waiting for a formal request to be submitted, the university recognized that these are four buildings of significant community interest that we would begin to undertake this process without starting necessarily at step one,”  Vignos said. “That request has been there.”

Once a formal request has been submitted, the ANC moves to step two, “preliminary evaluation or renaming request by ANC subcommittee.” 

According to the Building and Place Names website, the ANC decides whether or not to fully evaluate a renaming request based on the question, “Does sufficient support exist to demonstrate that the actions or viewpoints of the individual for whom a building or place is named may be inconsistent with OSU’s mission to create an equitable, inclusive and diverse educational environment?”

If a renaming requests meets this criteria, the subcommittee will move to produce a written report of the evaluation of the namesake, as well as a recommendation that the ANC consider the renaming request. 

The importance of this process lies in the concept of revealing history, according to Clark. 

“History informs us. It shapes who we are and who we will be, both as people and as a society,” Clark said. “We learn from history. We learn what to do and what not to do based on what’s happened in the past. We can decide to be better because of what occurred in the past.”

Once a building or place namesake has been determined to meet the evaluation criteria, the committee moves to step three: “full evaluation of renaming request by the full ANC”. 

In the case of the four buildings currently under evaluation, the ANC and the subcommittee are currently on step three. The subcommittee was charged with the process of procuring information about the history and lives of the buildings’ namesakes, including written, oral, visual or first-person accounts to produce a full evaluation for each namesake. 

 According to the Building and Place Names website during this process, the committees will develop a renaming request based on the question, “was the context of an individual’s life/legacy inconsistent with OSU’s contemporary mission and values?” 

According to Charlene Alexander, vice president and chief diversity officer, OSU’s core values are reflected throughout the community and play a large role in determining whether or not to rename a building or place. 

“I am very impressed with how we live out the values of the institution—values of inclusion, how we include others, values around diversity and social justice, I think those are some of the core values I’ve seen displayed here,” Alexander said. “I am also impressed with the manner in which our staff have worked together to ensure that we are living and reflecting those values. One of the ways we do so is to reveal the history of some of these buildings.”

If the history of a building’s or place’s namesake is determined by the committees to meet the criteria for renaming, the full ANC will make a recommendation to rename to OSU President Ed Ray. Ray then decides whether or not to rename a building or place. 

Ray is set to announce his decision regarding the evaluation of the four buildings by Nov. 27. 

Regardless of a name change or not, an important part of this process that the university is committed to create historical markers within each OSU building outlining the history of the namesake, according to Clark. 

“The university’s goal over time would be for each building and place at Oregon State to have plaques and historical information that would educate and encourage conversation about that building, its purpose and its namesake—good or bad,” Clark said.  

“Now the outcome of that may be a name change. The outcome of that may not be a name change,” Clark added. “That process of investing in each of us and the university to be better may result in these plaques, this debate that could occur in a classroom in a building saying, ‘Here’s the history and what does that mean to you today?’ That could occur 50 years from now if we have that information in the lobby of that building.”

According to Alexander, the process of revealing history is not only important for future generations to understand the context of the buildings’ namesakes, but also for current students to connect with the university. 

“I think for students at OSU, the primary goal is to complete their degree. But they’re also here to embrace all the institution has to offer at that moment,” Alexander said. “It makes so much sense then, to know the legacy of the institution and what it means to also fully contribute to the history of the university.” 

Another facet of community engagement is the Building and Place names website. It contains information about the renaming process, criteria and community engagement. Full evaluations of each namesake will be released on the website upon completion. All historical reports but Gill Coliseum have been released as of Monday, Oct. 16. 

For more information about renaming requests, the evaluation process or additional context, visit the Building and Place Names website. The renaming three community engagement events are open to the public.