Although football game days include 24-ounce “Chessie” pretzels, beer and some school pride, senior Colin Byrd said the sport is overshadowed by the stadium’s namesake: Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, a former university president.
The sociology major, along with other student groups, believe the former president was a racist and segregationist and for those reasons, the stadium’s name should be changed.
After hearing these student concerns, university President Wallace Loh will announce today the Byrd Stadium Naming Work Group, which will be tasked with providing Loh with “a thoughtful and balanced assessment of possible options” by Dec. 11, according to the announcement.
“Like on any other issue, before I make a decision I ask for input from a very diverse set of constituencies, so when the decision is made, no decision is going to please everybody, but at least they have a right and opportunity to be heard and speak up,” Loh said. “If they don’t like the decision at least they will feel they were heard. That's what democracy is about.”
Bonnie Thornton Dill, the arts and humanities college dean, will chair the work group, which comprises 19 faculty, staff, students and alumni, according to the announcement. Some notable members of the group are Kumea Shorter-Gooden, the university’s chief diversity officer; Damon Evans, the senior associate athletic director; and Warren Kelley, the student affairs assistant vice president.
“The issue before us is one that deserves serious consideration,” Dill said. “Because we are an educational institution, I feel like we should have a deliberative and educational process throughout our community.”
Byrd delivered a letter with a petition to Loh’s office this past spring about this topic and the SGA voted 13-2-2 in April in favor of a bill to support changing the name of Byrd Stadium after a surge in student support.
SGA President Patrick Ronk said he is glad the administration didn’t have a “gut reaction,” but instead is looking at the issue in a “calculated” way with the work group.
“It’s something we took a stance on last year, because we thought a lot of students thought it was important,” Ronk said. “Loh took into account a stance we took and is treating it seriously; he’s taking the whole issue seriously.”
But Byrd, who delivered a letter to Loh on Friday requesting he rename the stadium, said the administration should’ve taken swifter action. Over the summer, Byrd said he formed The College Park Nine, which is a group of students committed to engaging in demonstrations, open forums, letter-writing and partnerships with student groups to address this issue, among others.
The stadium’s name, he said, is “a slap in the face to the entire campus community, especially the black students and the black athletes of which there are many. ... I’m not looking for any ostensible measures that give the appearance that they are looking into it, I’m looking to see if they are actually renaming it.”
To rename a stadium, Loh must submit a proposal to the University System of Maryland Chancellor and Board of Regents. If submitted, the board would review and consider it, “but it would be speculative to say when that might occur,” system spokesman Mike Lurie wrote in an email.
A proposed new name must align with “the purpose and mission of the USM and its institutions,” the system policy states. “No naming shall be permitted for any entity or individual whose public image, products, or services may conflict with such purpose and mission.”
Loh said the creation of the work group isn’t a promise that he will submit a proposal to the Board of Regents to rename the stadium. He said he will wait to hear what the committee recommends before making a decision.
“Everybody wants decisions right away, but that’s not how a large public university works,” Loh said. “It’s like a supertanker. … You have to turn and turn the steering wheel until it moves maybe one or two degrees after months of turning.”
Other universities with buildings named after historic figures have faced backlash from those who find the namesake’s past offensive.
In May 2014, the University of North Carolina’s students and faculty presented a petition to the Board of Trustees’ University Affairs Committee to change the name of Saunders Hall, which was named after a former trustee who was said to be a leader of North Carolina's Ku Klux Klan. Almost a year later, the board voted to change the building’s name to Carolina Hall.
However, Clemson’s Board did not agree to change the building’s name, according to a Feb. 12 Greenville News article.
Dill said because this issue is occurring on other campuses, it’s important for this work group to address the questions surrounding Byrd Stadium.
The work group’s first meeting will be held Monday from 12 to 2 p.m. in room 1110 in the Main Administration Building.
“As the chair, I want to keep an open mind to the process,” Dill said. “I look forward to some really thoughtful conversations and to engaging the community as we move forward.”