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Illinois university moves to strike name Stephen Douglas from dorm

Eastern Illinois University is working to scrap the name of “Douglas Hall,” an all-male dormitory, because it is named after Stephen Douglas.

The dorm and its twin, “Lincoln Hall,” were originally named to commemorate the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate at the university’s location in Charleston, Illinois.

The hall’s namesake, Stephen Douglas, infamously advocated expanding slavery in a series of debates against Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1858.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death in May 2020, university officials, professors, and students quickly sought to replace “Douglas Hall” by formally requesting to rename the dormitory.

According to an Oct. 21 university news release, Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman forwarded the request to the Board of Trustees in September and called for a name that better addressed “EIU’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment.”

“Over the past few decades, Stephen Douglas has become an increasingly controversial figure for deploying inflammatory and racist rhetoric as a means to realizing his political aspirations, compelling EIU to once again reinstate the University Naming Committee to reconsider the Douglas Hall name as a reflection of EIU’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment,” the memo stated.

In November, the university released a shortlist of possible new names for the dorm consisting of former university presidents, faculty, Illinois politicians, and community members who contributed to the civil rights movement or broke through racial barriers.

Recommended names on the list include former Governor of Illinois Edward Coles, EIU’s first African American professor Bill Ridgeway, Tuskegee airman Captain Charles Hall, who served in WWII, and the university’s first African American alumna Zella Powell.

The board of trustees is expected to review and vote on a name change.

“We anticipate a recommendation will be shared with the board in January 2022,” said EIU spokesperson Joshua Reinhart to the Journal Gazette and Times Courier.

The fact that one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place at the university is something of a claim to fame for the campus. The university’s website notes that more than 12,000 people flocked to the city to listen to the debate, the fourth of seven debates held throughout the state.

In March 2021, the naming committee held a community forum during which several community members came out to support the renaming of the dorm while others advocated keeping it, according to the Daily Eastern News.

Brian Moushon, an Eastern alumnus, said he worried changing the name would lead to unexpected consequences, such as changing names of other buildings or removing portraits inside the school’s library.

The current controversy is only the latest in multiple attempts to rename the dorms since 2010, when the school’s student government declined to take action on the dorm’s name despite objections from the Black Student Union.

The College Fix previously covered an attempt in 2017. The university’s faculty senate called on officials to rename the two dorms out of fear of honoring Douglas and his pro-slavery principles.

Currently there is no movement to change the name of the “Lincoln Hall,” only “Douglas Hall,” according to official documentation provided on the University Naming Committee’s website.

A spokesperson for Eastern Illinois University did not respond to repeated requests from The College Fix for comment.

Eastern Illinois University’s President David Glassman said in a news release it is the school’s duty to address increasingly controversial figures in history and their deployment of “inflammatory and racist rhetoric as a means to realizing [their] political aspirations.”

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About the Author
Josh Hypes -- Hillsdale College