Vanderbilt returns donation, removes 'Confederate' from building name

The building had long been a controversial fixture on campus

Vanderbilt University has returned a $1.2 million donation to the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to remove the word "Confederate" from one of its residential buildings, now named Memorial Hall.

In 1935, UDC obtained naming rights for Confederate Memorial Hall in exchange for a $50,000 donation. However, the building's name has been a point of contention among members of the campus community for years, says Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos.

"Ever since I joined the Vanderbilt community in 1987, the residence hall bearing the inscription Confederate Memorial Hall has been a symbol of exclusion, and a divisive contradiction of our hopes and dreams of being a truly great and inclusive university," Zeppos wrote in an official letter.

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The university attempted to change the building's name to Memorial Hall in 2002 to honor war veterans, but UDC protested the change. A Tennessee appeals court ruled in 2005 that Vanderbilt could remove "Confederate" from the building only if it reimbursed UDC its donation, adjusted for inflation. A group of anonymous donors came up with the $1.2 million needed to pay back UDC.

The name change has been praised by members of the campus community, such as Student Government President Ariana Fowler.

"This action demonstrates the administration's attentiveness to student needs and concerns, as well as sets a great precedent for advocating on behalf of those who may feel marginalized on our campus," she says.

In addition to removing "Confederate" from Memorial Hall, Vanderbilt will also launch an annual conference on issues of race and unity, Zeppos says (Sandoval, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/16; Gonzalez, "The Two-Way," NPR, 8/15; Hall, NBC News, 8/16).

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