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Promising to formalize a process for systematically reviewing and addressing questions over its campus' historically named properties, Iowa State University has created a new committee charged with reviewing name removal requests and given the group its first assignment: Catt Hall.
The academic building - first constructed in 1893 and expanded in 1903 - was named for Carrie Chapman Catt, an 1880 ISU graduate who went on to 'be a major leader in the women's suffrage movement,” according to Iowa State's website.
Catt became the first woman to deliver a commencement address at Iowa State in 1921, when she received an honorary doctorate, and the university decided in 1992 to name Catt Hall after her.
Some urged the campus not to bestow the honor to start with, accusing Catt of espousing white supremacy and racist ideology. And criticism has persisted over the years - although others have defended Catt and said she did the opposite.
The New York Times in 1996 ran an Associated Press story quoting then-ISU President Martin Jischke as saying - in the face of pushback - his campus had no plans to change the building's name.
'While I don't support everything that Carrie Chapman Catt did or said, I believe her contribution to women's suffrage and world peace are worthy of the recognition that the university has given her,” Jischke said, according to the article.
What's happened since
Debate about the name has persisted, and Catt Hall has emerged as the first building up for name reconsideration under new procedures linked to an ISU policy meant to create a 'consistent, evidence-based and historically thoughtful way to evaluate naming decisions.”
A standing committee will follow set principles for fact-finding and investigation before arriving at a 'fully informed recommendation,” which it will make in a final report to ISU President Wendy Wintersteen. If the group recommends removal, Wintersteen will pass on the advisement to the Board of Regents, which has its own naming policy.
This new process, policy guidance and committee evolved from controversy around an ISU plaque honoring W.T. Hornaday - which will be the second historical naming decision the committee will tackle, after Catt Hall.
Hornaday attended ISU from March 1872 to November 1873 and received an honorary master's degree in 1903. As first director of the Bronx Zoo from 1899 to 1926, Hornaday received a plaque at Iowa State 'in recognition of his work as a conservationist.”
But the New York Times and NPR in 2006 reported Hornaday in 1906 curated an exhibit at his zoo housing a Congolese man named Ota Benga in the 'Monkey House” section with an orangutan.
Although a Black clergyman of the time vigorously protested the exhibit and got it shut down, Hornaday was unapologetic, saying, 'When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage.”
Benga died by suicide a decade later.
ISU President Wintersteen last year unveiled plans to review the Hornaday plaque and initiate the process for evaluating other namings.
As part of that process, community members can submit renaming consideration requests. Nine have submitted forms calling for Catt Hall reconsideration.
'ISU doesn't get to cherry pick what is and isn't important in a person's legacy just so it suits them,” one ISU alumnus said in a request for Catt Hall renaming - obtained by The Gazette through a public records request. 'Catt is a racist and so is a university that refuses to see that.”
'When Carrie Chapman Catt worked to obtain the right for women to vote, she only cared about securing a vote for white women,” one student wrote in a separate submission. 'Not only does honoring a woman like Catt shed an extremely negative light on the university, I cannot help but think of the talented people of color who have been turned away by seeing such a person honored by Iowa State.”
Some submissions referenced ISU resistance in the past to renaming Catt Hall.
'ISU's reputation is tarnished because of a refusal to acknowledge Catt's racism and the university's efforts to denigrate work to change the name of the building honoring her,” an alumnus wrote in a request for renaming.
One submission suggested the new naming committee could stay busy for a while as part of its larger push toward inclusion across campus.
'ISU has long been due for a revamp in policies, education, diversity training, and overall better treatment of its students of color ... Changing the name of Catt Hall is only the tip of the iceberg.”
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