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Towson University committee to explore name change for dorms named for slave-owning Marylanders

A student enters the Carroll House dorm on the campus of Towson University. Students Sarah Fishkind anf Jordan Smith are organizing on Towson University campus to get the names changed on two dorms, Paca House and Carroll Hall, because they are named after Marylanders who owned slaves.
A student enters the Carroll House dorm on the campus of Towson University. Students Sarah Fishkind anf Jordan Smith are organizing on Towson University campus to get the names changed on two dorms, Paca House and Carroll Hall, because they are named after Marylanders who owned slaves. (Matt Button / Baltimore Sun Medi/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Towson University is convening a committee to review the names of two residence halls named after Maryland men who owned slaves, the university announced Friday.

The committee is tasked with making a recommendation to the university on the existing names of Paca House and Carroll Hall — student housing buildings named for William Paca and Charles Carroll, both prominent elected officials in Maryland’s history who signed the Declaration of Independence.

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The recommendation could spur the university to seek alternative building names. Over the years, students have called for their change, most recently through the student-led group “Tigers for Justice," whose online petition demanding the name changes garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

In a statement, Towson University President Kim Schatzel lauded community members whose voices “have brought about this moment.”

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“As thousands in our country and across our globe call upon each other and their institutions to acknowledge and commit to stop racial injustice and inequity, Towson University is committed to relentlessly pursuing a diverse and inclusive university that supports all members of our campus community to thrive and realize their fullest potential,” Schatzel wrote in a campus-wide email obtained by Baltimore Sun Media.

The committee is being formed at the behest of Towson’s Student Government Association. A Student Government Association representative will be appointed to the committee, as will representatives of the college’s Academic Senate, Staff Senate and the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity.

Committee members will be announced in the coming weeks. Schatzel said that the process would be transparent and inclusive of the campus community.

Sarah Fishkind, a student organizer with “Tigers for Justice,” said she started “freaking out” when she received the campus-wide email from the university.

“I don’t even know if excited is the right word because this should have happened so long ago,” Fishkind said.

The Paca House name generated no public protest when it opened in 2008, but a former Student Government Association president recalled some opposition when Carroll Hall opened in 2015. Petitions to change the names have circulated over the years.

Although those efforts did not succeed in changing the dorm names, they did inspire the creation of university guidelines for naming buildings and academic programs, requiring the process to involve a committee of students, faculty and staff, including a member nominated by the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity.

The difference this year, rising junior and student organizer Annieka Attah said, is that new administrators seemed to support them. She commended Vernon Hurte, the new vice president for Student Affairs, for his willingness to take on the idea and explore it further.

Attah said conversations with university officials over the formal name change process began in April, before students began mounting pressure on social media this week calling for the school to remove Paca’s and Carroll’s names amid widespread demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

They were advised the Student Government Association would have to request a review of the building names, Fishkind said.

“Towson SGA is excited to hear that our formal request was not only reviewed but accepted and a committee is being convened,” Deguene Ndoing, president of the student government, said in a statement.

There is no timeline on when the committee might make the recommendation.

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A public university in Maryland must go through the University System of Maryland Board of Regents to change the name of its buildings. A university may formally request a change in writing before the request goes before the board for a vote.

If the building names are changed, “it’s not erasing history,” Attah said.

“History is being made every day,” she said.

Attah, who is black, suggested the buildings could instead honor former Towson students who “have made an impact [on the school] instead of someone who personally owned my ancestors — like, think about that."

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