Speaking up points out what needs to change.
Listening makes change happen.

For years, Oregon State University students, faculty, alumni and members of the Corvallis community have raised concerns about the potentially racist and exclusionary views held by the namesakes of four buildings on campus: Arnold Dining Center, Avery Lodge, Benton Hall, Benton Annex and Gill Coliseum. Listening to their concerns has led to new names for Avery Lodge, Benton Hall and Benton Annex that will be announced this spring, and it has changed how Oregon State connects its history to building and place names.

Scott Vignos, the director of strategic initiatives for the Office of Institutional Diversity, has learned a lot as a member of the Building and Place Name Evaluation Subcommittee of the Architectural Naming Committee. The committee was charged with developing the criteria for evaluating building names — incorporating history, the university’s mission and values and considerable community input.

Vignos identifies three takeaways from the process:

  • History is important. “In some cases, we did not know much about why some of these buildings were named what they were named,” he says. “The process of evaluating their names has given us important context about the names and their namesakes, a view into the institution’s history, what we’ve become and where we’re heading.” President Ed Ray has committed to engaging this history to examine the names of buildings across the university.
  • Involve the community. “We sometimes forget that the OSU family is large, broad and very diverse,” he says. “We’re speaking to constituents, stakeholders, alumni, friends and students that are all over the state, all over the country and the world.” As a result, the university offered multiple community engagement sessions and collected survey data from those sessions. Feedback and suggestions for new building names could also be submitted online, giving anyone who wanted a chance to participate.
  • Focus on dialogue. “Rather than creating a situation in which people try to convince each other of how right they are and how wrong someone else is, we wanted to provide opportunities for community members to talk with each other and to actually listen to each other,” Vignos says. “Sometimes that can be really hard when we’re talking about difficult concepts like history and exclusion.” Trained facilitators helped attendees at the community events have productive conversations and listen to each other’s perspectives.

Oregon State has worked to be open and transparent throughout the building name review process. A website documents all of the research on a building namesake’s life and legacy, the renaming criteria, recordings of the community engagement sessions and an assessment of the data gathered from those sessions.

Vignos believes it’s important to remember that this process goes beyond the names of buildings and the values they represent. It is a tangible step toward creating a campus environment where everyone feels welcome and heard.

“By talking about these names, we are also talking about what it means for the university to reconcile that maybe it hasn’t always been the most welcoming place for underrepresented groups and how we’re trying to change the experience for students, faculty, and staff in the present,” he says. “Having these conversations has advanced larger goals around working to make OSU a more inclusive place.”