President Christian calls for community dialogue about Hasbrouck Complex building names

SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian called on the campus community on Thursday, Aug. 31, to engage in a dialogue this year about the names of the Hasbrouck Complex buildings (Bevier Hall, Crispell Hall, Deyo Hall, DuBois Hall, Hasbrouck Dining Hall and Lefevre Hall).

These six Hasbrouck Complex buildings are named for six Huguenot families who were the first European settlers in New Paltz in 1678. The earliest generations of these families in America owned slaves during the period of slavery in New York State.

“Some view these building names as perpetuating the legacy of slavery, and I am aware that some students, particularly students of color, have expressed their discomfort about living in halls with these names,” Christian said.

“These issues have not been addressed fully and openly by our community to ensure that the visible symbolism of building names is culturally consistent with our values. Now is the right time to do so, when our nation is engaged in discourse about removing Confederate statues or changing building names that commemorate or memorialize the era of slavery in America. This is also a time that we are embarking on a series of diversity and inclusion goals to make SUNY New Paltz an even better place to learn, work, and live.”

He asked college community members to participate in a transparent, inclusive and respectful dialogue to “1) analyze and build awareness and understanding of historical and contemporary issues surrounding these names and northern slavery, with the help of scholars including our own faculty members; and 2) develop a consensus view about both the pros and cons of either retaining or replacing those names.”

That process will be led by the Diversity and Inclusion Council, which will be asked to report on its activities, findings and recommendations by April 15, 2018. More detail about the charge to the Council will be communicated later in September 2017. The conversation will include faculty, staff, students, alumni, College Council members, Historic Huguenot Street and other community partners.

“It would be naïve to think that these discussions will not be difficult,” President Christian said. “They will require the empathy and careful listening that I have written about before. We need to be aware at the outset that this discussion will draw attention from audiences beyond the university, and that others will be watching our process and its outcome. We have an opportunity to model problem-solving and community building that is sadly elusive in much of contemporary society.”

President Christian also responded in his message to a petition to rename Hasbrouck Dining Hall for an alumnus and Sodexo food service employee, Darold Thompson ’99 (Black Studies), who died on Aug. 22. Thompson was a friend and inspiration to many students during his 17 years of service to New Paltz. President Christian explained in his campus message that current Board of Trustees policy does not allow him to honor the petition, however, plans are under way to memorialize Mr. Thompson’s service.

Use this link to read the full text of President Christian’s Aug. 31 message to the campus community.

Read more about the guidelines for the permanent “naming of things” on SUNY campuses, here.