The University of Georgia considers naming a building or college in someone’s honor “one of the highest and most distinct honors that it can bestow,” according to UGA’s finance and administration website. Many of UGA’s buildings are named for racist figures — people who owned slaves or espoused white supremacy. Students and faculty are calling for their renaming as protests against racial inequality continue across the nation and in Athens.
On June 17, the University System of Georgia announced an advisory group that will review the names of buildings and colleges at all 26 USG universities, which includes UGA.
The advisory group’s recommendations will be publicly announced once they finish the review. There are no students on the board. No other information about the review process has been released. Aaron Diamant, USG spokesperson, did not respond for a request for comment by press time.
“The process of renaming is inherently murky,” Amber Roessner, a UGA alumna and leader of the independent Rename Grady task force, said. The UGA alumni-driven initiative, made up of about 30 members, aims to rename UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Currently, the school is named after Henry W. Grady, who was a known white supremacist. The task force wants to name the college after Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who was the first Black woman to attend UGA and who has had a lifelong career as a journalist.
Sydney Phillips, a junior political science and public relations double major, signed the petition. She said as a Black student who is enrolled in Grady classes, “it’s difficult to walk into a building every day that you know is named after a white supremacist.”
“This is a time for Grady to take a good look at how it is helping or hurting minority students,” Phillips said.
What we know about the renaming process
USG has outlined some guidelines for naming buildings, colleges and schools. Its website specifies that the president of each USG school should ensure that the naming or renaming process is matched with “the level of service or philanthropic giving from the person, persons, group, or groups for which the naming will be made.”
UGA’s policy specifies that namings can be authorized for “outstanding and distinguished service, for philanthropic giving, or both,” according to the finance and administration website.
All names of colleges, schools and real estate at USG institutions require authorization by the USG chancellor, chief administrative officer and the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents is the governing authority of the USG.
The USG has a procedure for the removal of names of university buildings and facilities, too.
“When it becomes apparent that there may be a reason to consider the removal of a name from a facility … the Vice President for Institutional Advancement shall be supplied with the original naming history and all salient circumstances surrounding the removal recommendation,” according to the USG’s place naming guidelines.
The president of the university then makes a determination as to whether a name should be removed. In the case of changing a name of a building or a college, the president has to submit a proposal for the removal of a name to the USG chief facilities officer.
UGA’s removal policy says naming is “based on a flexible standard regarding ‘outstanding service to the University of Georgia, to the nation, or to society.’” All relevant facts will be taken into account if a building or college is renamed, according to the policy.
If a situation warrants the removal of a name that was previously approved by the Board of Regents, “the decision whether to remove the name lies in the sole discretion of the Board in consultation with the Chancellor,” according to the USG website.
The president of a university can name and remove the name of interior spaces and academic units subordinate to colleges and schools, such as departments, without prior approval of the Board.
Looking to the past to inform the future
The most recent naming of a UGA college was when the UGA’s College of Education was named after Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first African American graduate. The college hosted a fundraising initiative to name the college, which gathered $2.6 million in October 2019. UGA President Jere Morehead made a donation of $200,000 from the President’s Venture Fund toward the effort.
The Rename Grady initiative is fully prepared to raise funds for the renaming effort, Roessner said. Its effort is tasked with a slightly different case than the College of Education’s — before it was named after Early, there was no name attached to it. In order to assign Hunter-Gault’s name to the school of journalism, Rename Grady has to first get approval to remove Grady’s name.
Roessner said that Rename Grady is attempting to work in conjunction with the USG and UGA in order to make this change possible.
The initiative sent emails in early June to USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley, Board of Regents chair Sachin Shailendra and Morehead about the renaming efforts, according to a June 15 news release. They have not received a response since emailing them.
Although no contact between the task force and USG has been established, Roessner said members of Rename Grady will continue their efforts to attend the August Board of Regents meeting to make their case. Roessner said that the task force hopes to work with the new USG advisory board.
The petition to rename Grady College had more than 8,500 signatures on Saturday. Roessner said that the petition is still active, and members of the Rename Grady task force are still hoping to gather more signatures.
“We felt very strongly that our petition could serve as a voice that would enact change and meaningful change,” Roessner said.
Roessner said the task force is taking the renaming process one step at a time and will have more solid plans for next steps after making contact with the USG. When decades of UGA students have known buildings and colleges for their current names, institutional change can be a learning process.
“It’s hard to explain a process in a moment where the process is shifting,” Roessner said. “That’s truly what we’re seeing in this moment.”