opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Renaming Wildermuth Intramural Center is a step in the right direction



The IU Bloomington campus will be one step closer to reflecting the University’s professed values once the Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center is renamed simply the Intramural Center.

The IU Board of Trustees voted in favor of the name change at their meeting Friday. A permanent new name for the facility is expected to be revealed next year.

Ora L. Wildermuth’s name is being removed from the building due to his racist, segregationist attitude.

In 1945, Wildermuth wrote to a colleague, “I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the white. I belong to the white race and shall remain loyal to it. It always has been the dominant and leading race.”

The IU Board of Trustees is a bit late to the game with this one. This quote and other evidence of WIldermuth’s white supremacist views came to light in a 2006 book about Bill Garrett, an IU basketball player who was the first black player on a Big Ten Conference varsity team.

In 2008, IU assembled a committee to respond to increasing calls to remove Wildermuth’s name from the building. The committee decided to continue honoring the white supremacist, recommending that his name remain attached to the building.

However, in a move similar to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s 2016 decision to put abolitionist Harriet Tubman and slaveowner Andrew Jackson on opposing sides of the $20 bill, the committee recommended renaming the building the William L. Garrett-Ora L. Wildermuth Fieldhouse.

The notion that a building could simultaneously honor a white supremacist and a trailblazing icon of black liberation was plainly absurd, and the planned name change was quickly scrapped due to the Garrett family’s opposition.

In a similarly incongruous statement, a historical marker honoring Garrett was placed at the Intramural Center last year. Now that Wildermuth is no longer associated with the building, that historical marker will actually mean something.

It’s easy to point out there are far more pressing issues in the world than the names of buildings, and that’s true. But whether we like it or not, the names of campus buildings make a statement about IU’s values and what kind of community we have.

White people will often have a hard time understanding what message it sends to students of color to name campus buildings after white supremacists. But it is not hard to understand how it can be demoralizing to have to study in a building that honors someone who didn’t believe you should be able to study there.

Patrick Shoulders, the one Trustee to vote against the name change, argued against judging historical figures by modern standards. But the fact that segregationist views were once more common doesn’t mean their meaning is any different today.

This renaming brings up other latent naming controversies at IU, such as the namesake of Jordan Hall, David Starr Jordan. Jordan was an outspoken white supremacist and eugenicist. Students have spoken out against this name in the past, and the Board of Trustees should pay attention to students’ views.

Renaming buildings does require a bit of a hassle. It’s reasonable to expect that not every problematic building name can changed at once, and we don’t have to shoot for perfection. But ultimately, ditching the most egregious namesakes of IU buildings is a necessary step in creating an inclusive campus.

Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

More in Opinion



Comments powered by Disqus