JMU sends the Board of Visitors a recommendation to change Confederate names

JMU sends the Board of Visitors a recommendation to change Confederate names
The columns of Wilson Hall at James Madison University. (Source: WHSV)

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — On June 22, James Madison University’s president announced a recommendation for the Board of Visitors to change the names of Maury, Jackson, and Ashby Halls. The recommendation came after the university put out a survey asking for opinions on the change and after the Student Government Association passed a Bill of Opinion, among other measures.

University spokeswoman Caitlyn Read said the recommendation to the board comes from years of work.

“The university has actually been looking at this issue for years. President Alger has been a leader in issues of access and equity since he began his tenure here,” Read said.

The buildings are named after Turner Ashby, a Confederate cavalry commander killed near Harrisonburg (this past weekend marked the 158th anniversary of his death); General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, tied to the Shenandoah Valley through his historic Valley campaigns; and Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Virginia oceanographer and geologist who served as Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defenses for the Confederacy.

School leaders are recommending immediate removal of the building names, the assignment of temporary names, and establishing a process in which the JMU community will be involved in the development of new names over the coming academic year.

This isn’t the first time the SGA of JMU drafted a bill to change hall names.

In November 1992, Franklin Dam, who was an SGA senator at the time, drafted a similar bill calling for the removal of two hall names. The bill did not receive much support. Now, 28 years later, it was successful.

While the bill received signatures of more than 10% of the student body population, some alumni are still not in favor of the change.

On a popular JMU Facebook page, “JMU Nation,” current students and alumni commented their opinions of the situation both in favor and in disagreement. The post received over 500 comments.

But JMU officials say the “overwhelming majority” of the more than 500 responses they received to their survey were in favor of changing the name – though every comment was considered.

“In adhering to this deliberative process, the university fulfilled its mission of educating, listening and learning, and ultimately acting—underscoring that how organizations change matters as much as what they change,” Read said in a statement.

On June 22, former Governor Terry McAuliffe released a statement endorsing President Alger’s recommendation.

Ethan Gardner, JMU alumnus and Democracy fellow for the Center of Civic Engagement at JMU, is excited about the endorsement.

“It was really incredible to have his support and to see how much this issue has really gained the attention beyond JMU’s borders at this point,” Ethan said.

The Board of Visitors’ next meeting is planned for this upcoming September, but the university is working to call a special virtual meeting this summer.

On-campus, residential operations will start again at JMU this fall, and the school plans to get the campus involved in developing new names in the coming months.

James Madison’s name, the university says, will not be changing.

“James Madison University is named for the fourth president of the United States and chief architect of the U.S. Constitution. Madison owned slaves in his lifetime, and the university recognizes Madison’s flaws as well as his virtues. The university will continue to honor his legacy through the name of the institution, and carry forward his vision ‘to form a more perfect Union.’”

Copyright 2020 WHSV. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.