(Charleston, IL) – At its regular board meeting Friday, September 10, Eastern Illinois University board of trustee members will receive an update from EIU President Dr. David Glassman on the interest by the University Naming Committee in renaming Douglas Hall.
The original decision to name the building Douglas Hall was driven by the participation of its namesake—Stephen Douglas—in a series of debates between Douglas and then-future U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. The two senatorial candidates traveled across Illinois, participating in public discussions about slavery and its impacts across a still-sprawling late-1850s America. EIU’s Lincoln and Douglas Halls were named to commemorate the significance of those debates—and to honor Charleston as the home of one of seven such debates.
As background, the naming of the residence halls in tandem as Lincoln and Douglas Halls was recommended to then-EIU President Charles Buzzard in the regular faculty meeting of February 6, 1951. According to the minutes of the meeting, the names were suggested “in honor of the historical debate that took place in this community.” Buzzard subsequently took the recommendation to the Illinois Teachers College Board for approval, which was granted.
Since then, and especially in recent years, Stephen Douglas himself has become an increasingly controversial figure, primarily for deploying inflammatory and racist rhetoric as a means to realizing his political aspirations.
Citing those concerns, and in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis in May 2020, the EIU administration reinstated the University Naming Committee and requested that it examine and gather feedback on the topic.
This is not the first time a University committee was assembled to make a recommendation on a potential Douglas Hall renaming. Former EIU President Dr. William Perry also assembled the committee, which at that time recommended keeping the Douglas Hall name. Perry affirmed the committee’s decision in January 2011, citing an opportunity to use the Charleston debate as “a way to educate our students about the role of the debates in our history, or about the larger issues surrounding antebellum Illinois and the United States at that time.” Afterward, EIU worked to develop a historical display for the Lincoln-Stevenson-Douglas Complex that addressed such issues.
The 2021 committee assembled to reexamine the Douglas Hall name was composed of a diverse assortment of EIU faculty, staff, and students. The committee’s primary charge included exploring stakeholder attitudes toward the current Douglas Hall name. As part of the committee members’ mission, members first learned and discussed the history and surrounding significance of the Douglas Hall name. The committee also learned about past and present calls to reevaluate both historical monuments and building names, especially in instances when such monuments or names can be construed as glorifying what now are clearly unacceptable ideologies, such as owning human slaves.
After delving into the history of the building’s name, the committee then asked for, collected and evaluated stakeholder sentiment on the existing Douglas Hall name. Based on that input, the committee developed a formal recommendation to consider renaming Douglas Hall. That recommendation was shared with Glassman in May, and will be subsequently shared with EIU’s Board of Trustee members in their September 10 meeting for discussion and further consideration.
According to the University’s bylaws, only the board of trustees has the authority to name or rename campus buildings.
For more information about EIU, or to learn more about its growing assortment of programs and services, visit the university’s website at www.eiu.edu, or call EIU’s public information office at (217) 581-7400.