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Students react to removal of David Starr Jordan’s name from IU’s campus



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Water flows between the rocks Thursday in the Jordan River. IU President Michael McRobbie will recommend that all campus landmarks named after David Starr Jordan be renamed Tuesday at the IU Board of Trustees meeting due to increased scrutiny over Jordan's history as a eugenicist. Colin Kulpa

When IU senior Sam Reitenour learned that David Starr Jordan’s name would be removed from campus last week his first feeling was one of relief, and then disappointment. 

David Starr Jordan, president of Indiana University from 1884–1891, had a role as a prominent eugenicist following his career at IU. IU President Michael McRobbie recommended Sept. 24 to remove Jordan’s name from campus, including from Jordan River and Jordan Hall, according to IU spokesperson Chuck Carney. 

Reitenour said he was grateful to see the name finally stripped from campus but expressed disappointment that decades had passed before action was taken from the administration. Even two years ago, Reitenour said he did not understand how the name remained.

“I looked him up and I was just flabbergasted that someone of that reputation could possibly still have their name plastered not only on campus buildings, but the river and a street in Bloomington,” Reitenour said. “His name is everywhere.”

Ky Freeman, president of IU’s Black Student Union and IU senior, said his organization put forward a list of names to replace Jordan in June to the Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs, John Applegate. There was no response from the IU administration to BSU’s proposal at the time. 

A petition was created over the summer in collaboration with Megan Chapman, an IU Maurer School of Law student, to engage the student body in a name change. The petition received more than 4,000 signatures.

“We did stuff behind the scenes to try to get names in there and that didn’t happen,” Freeman said. “So of course I’m sitting up here and I’m pissed.”

Freeman said he is happy to see Jordan's name taken down but is not optimistic the university will choose a name before he graduates. Regardless, BSU will continue to push multiple names to replace Jordan’s. 

A top contender, according to BSU’s proposal, for the new name of the Biology building is Ezra Dee Alexander, a Bloomington native and a founder of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. Alexander received his Doctor of Medicine from IU in 1919 after attending the university for his undergraduate degree.

BSU is pushing for Campus River to be named in honor of the Potawatomi, Miami or Delaware people. Freeman hopes the name could honor the history of Indigenous people he believes do not receive adequate attention.

“This is the land in which this institution is built on and still barely gets any credit,” Freeman said.

Following McRobbie’s decision, IU Student Body President Rachel Aranyi proposed Thomas Atkin’s name as a replacement title. Atkins was IU’s first African American student body president. She said she hopes students can play a part in the renaming decision as well.

“We would love for students to be represented in the renaming process in a formal capacity,” Aranyi said.

Reitenour said he is ashamed IU promoted Jordan's legacy before others he finds more deserving, but he thinks the renaming is an opportunity to right that.

“The way that a student becomes acquainted with the famous graduates of that university is by the campus naming things after them,” Reitenour said. “For all these years, they’ve chosen to give a platform to David Starr Jordan over anyone else.”

Many readers have shared their ideas with the IDS for a new name. These include former athletics director J. Terry Clapacs and former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Campus River and former botany professor Ralph Cleland for the biology building. 

Of those suggested, several such as Martha Bernal, IU alumna and the first Latina to receive a Ph.D. of psychology, and Douglas Bauder, former LGBTQ+ Culture Center director, represent minority communities. 

“I think that’s the least they could do honestly,” Reitenour said. “If you have had this name of someone who has contributed to such great racism up on this building for the longest time, I think the least that they can do is to name it after somebody who would have been a victim of his line of thought.“

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