The idea for this symposium arose in the wake of increasing student and faculty awareness that James Slater, for whom the Slater Museum of Natural History is named, taught a course on eugenics from 1921 to 1951. The following questions soon arose: Should we continue to commemorate someone who taught a subject now known to have been pervaded with classist, ableist and racist assumptions and that resulted in policies that are in conflict with Puget Sound’s expressed values? If the museum name commemorates the fact Slater founded the museum, should his name be removed for having taught this course? Why did Slater teach the course in the first place and what was the course content? How can we tell? What is the threshhold for renaming building and institutions as values change, who decides, and how? What kinds of evidence do we use to make these decisions, and how and when is it just to make judgements about the past?
National discussions about renaming buildings and institutions have been increasing in recent years. Those discussions are taking place within a broader debate about the nature of commemoration, the relationship between commemoration and historical memory, who we commemorate and why, and who gets to decide and why. Institutional responses to these questions have varied: some have shied away from such conversations, others have embraced the challenge of developing complex and holistic statements and plans for assessing naming and commemoration practices. Some names have been changed; others have been kept. Here are links to news coverage of debates taking place nationally and internationally regarding buildings and institutions named after influential eugenicists:
Both Yale University and Oregon State University have recently developed interested processes and policies regarding naming and commemoration for their institutions. For Yale's work, click HERE. For OSU, click HERE.
We have asked our panel of speakers to come to Puget Sound and help us learn more about the history of eugenics, but the work of this symposium is inextricably related to the questions being raised about who we commemorate on campus and why. During the Final Round Table, we will be asking speakers and attendees to reflect on and discuss the dilemmas and questions related to names, commemoration, and historical memory, in the context of both Puget Sound and Beyond.