On July 9, Bill Powers, president of the University of Texas, announced that he would accept the recommendation of a 21-member panel to re-name a residence hall honoring William Stewart Simkins, an unapologetic Ku Klux Klan organizer who later became a law professor at the University of Texas, a job he held from 1899 until his death in 1929.
The UT administration has been called on several times in the past few years to change the names of several of its buildings, but Powers made little headway on his promise to consider modifications until the Simkins story—and the protests of African-American groups on campus and in the community—garnered national attention. (For background, read this June 13 StudentNation report.)
Dr. Greg Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement and chair of the advisory panel, said that the renaming was recommended because the dorm’s current title “compromises public trust and the university’s reputation,” and because it was “inconsistent with the core values of [the] university”—which means, of course, that it was making the school’s diversity efforts and inclusiveness look bad.
So, while it’s a good thing that Simkins will no longer have an exalted place on UT’s campus, the decision also raises inevitable questions about the other Southern heroes littering the lawns and the extent to which this particular renaming is only a capitulation to public outcry. Whether this qualifies as progress on the Texas campus—whether it will foster a more welcoming environment for minorities —will really lie in the narrative UT constructs for its incoming students and its future.
Sara Haji, a Nation intern and freelance writer, is a recent graduate from the University of Texas, Austin.