The announcement that Aycock Dormitory on East Campus was being renamed was met with tremendous joy by all those who had lobbied to remove one of the stains of white supremacy from Duke’s campus. It was a change whose time had come, and the administration certainly aligned itself with the wishes of the student body in implementing it less than six months after the initial resolution calling for the renaming was passed by the Duke Student Government.
Dubbed the father of public education in North Carolina, Charles Aycock was also a leading spokesman in white supremacy movements and frequently employed vitriolic and defamatory language toward blacks. Aycock made no financial or intellectual contributions to Duke. There was no justification for commemorating a deeply racist man who did little to directly improve the University, and, thankfully, Duke students no longer must live within a building named for him.
There is the lingering question, however, why the administration did not choose to fully adopt the resolution of DSG. In its entirety, the resolution called for the dorm to be renamed after Julian Abele, the black architect who designed much of West Campus. Certainly East Residence Hall is better than Aycock, but it does not have the same meaning as Abele Hall—nor, for that matter, have the same ring to it.
East Residence Hall was the original name of the dormitory, which opened in 1911 when Duke University was still Trinity College. One year later, however, the Board of Trustees decided to change the name to Aycock. There has been some concern that the naming of an East Residence Hall on East Campus next to the East Duke building may be somewhat confusing to freshmen who are already struggling to get around campus. That is not to say that these concerns outweigh the benefits of renaming Aycock, because, in this instance, the benefits certainly outweigh any potential drawbacks. Nonetheless, it does seem as if there may have been a better choice for the renaming.
Perhaps the University considers the name East Residence Hall temporary, as it waits for an alumnus worthy of being the namesake to emerge, or, perhaps, it is looking for an opportunity to receive a donation in order to find a more permanent name. Administrators noted that the restoration of the dorm's original name is deliberate, however, and so it is also possible that the name is here to stay. Only time will tell, but, for now, it does seem a shame to have missed the opportunity to remind our students of the great contributions that Julian Abele made for our school. The time has come for him to be recognized in a more significant manner, and it will be the responsibility of the administration to decide how it will do so. With the large amount of construction currently taking place around campus, there will be a lot of options to choose from. Reopening West Union as the Julian Abele Student Union would be an impressive testament to the gratitude that the University has for Abele’s contributions.
But, for now, the renaming of Aycock should go in the victory column for all of the student leaders and organizations that fought for the change.
Editor’s Note: This editorial was written by members of staff rather than The Chronicle’s independent editorial board.