opinion

COLUMN: Racist historical figures don't deserve buildings to honor their names



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The Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center, now the Intramural Center, sign stands on Seventh Street in the heart of the IU campus.   IDS file photo Buy Photos

The Intramural Center has been separated from the name Wildermuth since October. Following our celebration of the 70th anniversary of basketball player Bill Garrett’s start at IU, supporters are advocating for his name to replace it. Wildermuth’s name was not deserving of this honor due to his racist history. 

Bill Garrett played for IU from 1948 until 1951, breaking the Big Ten Conference color barrier. He broke records for scoring and rebounding, and he was named an All-American his senior year.

While Garrett was breaking barriers, IU trustee Ora L. Wildermuth was advocating against desegregation. 

The IDS reported that he wrote in a letter, “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 Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center was named in 1971 to honor Wildermuth’s dedication to the advancement of the university as a trustee, especially his advocacy for the building of the Fieldhouse. Still, his racist ideologies make him unfit to have his name honored in that way.

As we become more aware of the oppression that exists throughout our history, we must acknowledge the problematic actions and ideologies of those that we have honored.

Racism and oppression exist in our country’s history, and it is not something that we should run from or hide. It is only in recognizing it that we can begin to move forward and rectify it. 

We also should not erase the important contributions of people in our history because of their problematic actions. However, it should affect the way we talk about them and the way we acknowledge their contributions. Naming a building after a figure is a direct action of honor that should be reserved for those who who represent the ideals of IU.

Wildermuth’s name does not belong on the Intramural Center, and it was a step in the right direction to remove it. But there are more buildings on campus named after people who don’t deserve it.

In November 2017, anonymous students left slips of paper in Jordan Hall calling for it to be renamed.

The building is named after David Starr Jordan, who was president of IU from 1884 to 1891 and an open supporter of the eugenics movement. 

He chaired the Committee on Eugenics of the American Breeder’s Association and supported the sterilization of those with low IQs, mental illnesses and physical disabilities.

Jordan was quoted in a biography as having said, “To say that one race is superior to another is merely to confirm the common observation of every intelligent citizen.”

Despite the 2017 protest and support on social media, the name of Jordan Hall remains unchanged. 

What message are we sending to IU students of color by forcing them to attend class in a building named after a man who would not believe they are equal to their white peers? 

The IDS spoke with IU associate professor of biology Gabriel Zentner, who said he would like to see Jordan Hall renamed and an exhibit added to recognize Jordan’s contributions and controversial views.

This is the best way to address buildings like the Intramural Center and Jordan Hall, without erasing the important contributions of figures like Wildermuth and Jordan. They should not be honored with the name of a building, and their contributions should not be recognized without also critically thinking of their racist histories.

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