The University of Oregon’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to strip the name of former Frederic Dunn from a campus dorm because of his past as an “exalted cyclops” in the Klu Klux Klan.
The decision was made by university President Michael Schill and was based on “dialog, logic and research,” all of which lead Schill to conclude that “it would be inconsistent with our values to have a building named after an exalted cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan.” For those of you not intimately familiar with the Klan’s insane terminology, an “exalted cyclops” is the leader of a single Klan unit. That means that Dunn, a classics professor at the university in the 1920s and 1930s, was teaching Greek to the youths by day and being a racist and dangerous asshole by night.
Alumnus David Igl argued in favor of keeping Dunn’s name, saying that his involvement in civil organizations like the YMCA would be “antithetical” to the Klan’s views. The Board of Trustees rightfully saw this argument for the puzzling bit of hogwash that it was and pushed forward, siding with student leaders who advocated for the change because of students feeling “unsafe because of names on buildings.”
The University of Oregon is the most recent school to take a look at its past. In San Francisco, Board of Education President Matt Haney proposed this week to rename schools “that bear the names of men with questionable human rights legacies” including Francis Scott Key Elementary School and George Washington High, the latter of which has a mural depicting Washington with slaves. In May of this year, the Houston Independent School District voted to change the names of seven schools that had ties to the Confederacy. Renaming a school or a public building isn’t going to do shit to erase the horrific legacy of slavery, oppression and institutional racism that runs through this country, but it’s something, I guess.
It feels easy to lump this in with the rise of microaggression awareness and the constant clamoring for safe spaces in college campuses. But, when you consider just how many public buildings and institutions in this country are named after slaveowners for no good reason except that they were revered, dead white men, maybe a change, however slight, isn’t such a bad idea after all.