Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


At Vanderbilt, Confederate controversy goes to court

(U-WIRE) PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After 14 years of controversy, the racially charged debate over the name of a Vanderbilt University residential hall has finally gone to court.

The Tennessee division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is suing Vanderbilt over the university administration’s decision to remove the word “Confederate” from Confederate Memorial Hall.

Officials at the university decided to change the name of the hall because many students were offended by the word “confederate,” a reminder of slavery.


The UDC’s lawsuit seeks a ruling requiring that the word “Confederate” not be removed from the building’s facade. The removal of the word would breach a contract made between Peabody College and the UDC.

The UDC donated $50,000 in 1935 to George Peabody College for Teachers to build a residential hall in honor of Tennessee Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. The money donated was a third of the cost required for constructing the building, and would be equivalent to over $600,000 today.

Vanderbilt acquired Peabody College to add to the university’s facilities, and when the university began renovations on the residence hall in 1985, various student groups, faculty and administration demonstrated their anger at the name of the hall, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice chancellor for public affairs at Vanderbilt.

“At the time, the university chose to put a historical marker on the building,” he said.

Vanderbilt’s Student Government Association passed several resolutions over the years to change the building’s name, the last of which was accepted as a proposal by administrators in May 2002.

Administrators agreed to change the name, and Chancellor Gordon Gee, former Brown president, presented the proposal to the Board of Trustees and ultimately approved the decision.

After offering several name changes to the UDC such as South Hall and Tennessee Hall, none of which were accepted, the university passed the resolution to make the name change and “triggered the lawsuit from the UDC,” Schoenfeld said.

Suzanne Silek, president general of the UDC, stated that she understands how some people could be offended by the word Confederate, but that the word should not bring up that connotation.

“I don’t feel that it does,” she said.

“The Confederacy was not all about slavery. There were other reasons for the existence of the Confederate States of America. The ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who gave that money gave it to the college in memorial of Confederate soldiers,” Silek said.

The UDC claims that Vanderbilt risks making those of Confederate descent feel excluded in their attempt to make other minorities feel included, according to the Nashville Tennessean.

“This is not a matter of color; this is not a matter of race,” said Betty Hughes, chairwoman of the UDC’s Confederate Hall Memorial Committee in an interview with the Vanderbilt Hustler.

Students and administrators at Vanderbilt disagree. Student groups such as the Black Student Alliance and the campus Green Party held letter-writing campaigns to show student support of the school’s decision to change the name.

Nia Toomer, a Vanderbilt senior and president of the Black Student Alliance said that although the UDC claims they don’t support slavery, “Their ancestors were slave-owners — they earned their money from slavery — and that building itself was bought from slavery.

“The name is more than honoring soldiers — it represents slavery and discrimination,” Toomer said.”

Toomer said that the school should have made the change long ago, adding, “I personally feel that the new administration is bringing the change. Chancellor Gee is doing a whole lot on this campus.”

Student polls conducted by the SGA show support outnumbering opposition in the matter. There were a number of student groups, administrators and faculty involved in the process, as this is “not something you decide lightly,” Schoenfeld said.

“We have looked at the legality of whether Vanderbilt has the right to name buildings on its campus. We are confident we have the ability and the authority to change the name,” Schoenfeld said.

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