Last night, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context (CACHC) held a public forum to discuss some of the sites on the Ole Miss campus that may become contextualized due to the history behind them.
One of the most popular items on the agenda was the potential name change of Vardaman Hall. Built in 1929, the building is named after former governor of Mississippi and U.S senator from the early 1900s, James Vardaman.
“He was clearly a white supremacist,” said Dr. Donald Cole, assistant provost and member of the CACHC. “Morally he believed in that with all of his heart, and he acted that out to the extreme that he said, ‘If it is necessary, every N-word in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.’ As I learned about him from the historians, it became very difficult to defend a building bearing that name on a flagship campus like ours.”
The 14-member committee does not have the power to change the name, but they make recommendations to Chancellor Vitter, which he will choose to accept or not. An issue that arose at the forum was whether students will have the chance to weigh in on the decision. While a yes or no vote may not be on the horizon, Cole urges students to participate in the discussion.
“We hope that students see their concerns are rectified by the fact that they can have direct input through the website, their student representative, by approaching committee members,” Cole said. “We are trying to have as open as a process as we can, and that is why we have these public forums. We want input, and that input is going to be considered. The student’s input is valued, but that doesn’t mean anyone else’s input is valued any less.”
While Cole recognizes that some may be hesitant to embrace the change on campus, he urges anyone who opposes that change to study the history of Vardaman before making the choice to oppose the name change.
“I think that anyone who reads about him, and I’m hoping most people do… I think they would probably say it should be something in the archives, but nothing as prominent as a name sitting on the campus of the University of Mississippi. I’ve never read about anyone who has studied him that then wanted to defend him,” Cole said.
Vardaman Hall is the only building targeted for a name change, but other sites on campus will receive contextualization plaques similar to the one placed in front of the Confederate statue in The Circle. The sites listed on the committee’s agenda are Lamar Hall, Barnard Observatory, Longstreet Hall and George Hall. Other sites listed as “Antebellum sites” include Barnard Hall, Croft, the Lyceum and Hilgard Cut. Cole insists that the contextualization isn’t an attempt to erase history on the campus, but rather to explain it.
“We’re a 21st-century university with some names and idealisms that were presented in the 19th, 18th and even 17th centuries. When students query about some of those buildings, it doesn’t line up with who we are as an institution today,” Cole said. “You don’t want to erase history, but rather explain history and the times and settings in which they were relevant. We are glad to be on the forefront of this.”
The committee is looking to have a new name in place for Vardaman Hall by the end of this semester. The next public forum held by the CACHC will be on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Burns-Belfry Museum.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.