The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is in the process of researching and potentially renaming various buildings that were named after racist historical figures.
According to a report written by a task force brought together by UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie, Foster Hall, DeClouet Hall, Buchanan Hall, Bittle Hall, Mouton Hall, Montgomery Hall and Fletcher Hall are named after various enslavers, Klansmen, members of the Confederacy, segregationists and supporters of policies that harmed or disenfranchised African Americans.
In response to a petition created by Paul Richard, a UL Lafayette alum, and the youth’s protest and response to George Floyd’s murder in 2020 at the time, the university decided to establish a committee to review the building names and history, and create a report.
“In the summer of 2020, amid renewed national calls for social and racial justice and to further reflect the University’s unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the University president asked for a formal historical and scholarly assessment of building names on the campus,” Senior Communications Representative Eric Maron wrote in a statement to The Vermilion.
“A task force on building names was established to assess the historical origins of campus building names. It includes University faculty, scholars, and students with expertise in American history, Louisiana history, local history, history of race and ethnicity, and African American history, among other disciplines,” the statement continues.
The task force submitted their findings to the university president on June 14, 2021. They received feedback from the president informing them that their findings were just a “draft” and that further research was necessary, although some committee members viewed their submission as the final product of their studies with solidified information that required action to be taken by the university.
According to Theodore Foster, a member of the task force and a UL Lafayette history professor, they received a letter from the president on Oct. 21, 2021 that said the administration did not like the findings.
“We still have yet to meet with the president, which I think is a testament to the neglect and lack of urgency from that office,” Foster said. “As far as I, as an individual in the committee, is concerned, the report is complete. The argument that the work done is not sufficient is a product of refusal to deal with the findings.”
The committee used university archives, various media outlets, bulletins, catalogs and collections of documentation to aid them in their research.
The information they found was broken into four categories: information that was sufficient enough to draw a conclusion, information that needed more in-depth research and the research was completed, information that needed more in-depth research and is still being looked at by committee members and information that they deemed inconclusive.
According to Michael Martin, Ph.D., a member of the task force and a UL Lafayette history professor, he understands why the president extended the researching process or did not accept the document as the final draft.
“It’s mainly because we want to make sure that we’re getting things right and that we’re not missing something or accidentally overlooking something,” Martin said.
However, there are some buildings the committee confidently determined as problematic and that needed to be changed immediately.
“A decision needs to be made about whether these names can stay on those buildings,” Martin said. “It just comes down to a question of ‘are these the people we want memorialized on our campus in the decade of the 2020s?’”
DeClouet Hall, which now houses University College, was named in 1921 after Paul Louis DeClouet, who served in the Confederacy, the group associated with fighting for the preservation of slavery. He was also a part of the White League, a white paramilitary organization that partook in racial terror acts to try to take over local governments as well as using scare tactics to stop Black people from voting.
Buchanan Hall, which now houses the Offices of University Housing, Orientation, and Student Life & Conduct, was named in 1927 after John Charles Buchanan, who volunteered for the Confederate Army.
Bittle Hall, which now houses the University Police Department, was named in 1939 after Atwood William Bittle, who was a part of the Lafayette Clan, B. C. Crow No. 24 of the Lafayette chapter of the KKK.
Mouton Hall, which now houses the criminal justice, sociology & anthropology and political science departments, was named in 1940 after members of the Mouton family including Alexandre Mouton, who was the owner of Ile Côpal Plantation, which had enslaved 120 people. He also received funds for public education by selling enslaved people, and was a part of the Louisiana Secession Convention, which pushed to separate from the U.S. in order to form the Confederacy and preserve slavery.
Montgomery Hall, also known as the chemistry building, was named in 1952 after William Montgomery, who was a member of the Lafayette Clan, B. C. Crow No. 24 of the Lafayette chapter of the KKK.
Certain building names needed further research, but that task was completed.
Foster Hall, which now houses financial aid offices, was named after Murphy Foster, who regulated and supervised the incorporation of Louisiana’s Jim Crow system, including the passing of Louisiana’s Separate Car Law, which led to the Supreme Court’s landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
Fletcher Hall, also known as the art and architecture building, was named after Joel L. Fletcher, who, according to records, put halts in place purposefully for the integration of Black students into what was known at the time as Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute.
According to Maron’s statement, “the next step in the process will be for the president to submit the task force’s completed assessment to the University Council which includes broad representation from across the divisions of the institution. A designated subgroup of the task force and the Council is developing a rubric that will assist in the decision process.”
“The rubric will be populated with information submitted both by the task force and the Council. The Council will then make its own recommendations to the president, who may also choose to invite additional campus and community input.
“As a final step, the president will make recommendations to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors which has authority over all System institutions,” the statement continues.
Some of the members understand the negative consequences of these building names and how they could affect Black students.
“The emergence of naming buildings and the honor associated with them, as symbolic and superficial as it is, has meaning. And that meaning, you know, travels over time, almost 100 years later to where we are today with a Black student who’s receiving an education from an institution saying ‘hey, that racist building name, or that building name is associated with an individual who would not support my attendance here’,”Foster said.