Policy, review planned for reconsidering historical honors

Iowa State will establish a formal way to reconsider its facility names and memorials that honor historical figures and, once a policy is adopted, will review all campus naming decisions for potential concerns.

President Wendy Wintersteen announced the plans in a June 11 campus message, appointing vice president for diversity and inclusion Reg Stewart and Faculty Senate president Carol Faber to co-chair a committee to develop a recommendation for a renaming policy and process. She asked the committee to examine renaming principles at other institutions, specifically citing Stanford University's guidelines as a good example.

"I look forward to this important work developing a procedure that allows a thoughtful and consistent approach to reconsidering historic naming decisions," Stewart said.

After the committee is selected, Faber and Stewart will work on developing the best possible plan for Iowa State, she said.

"I am sure this will be challenging work. If we are thoughtful in our approach, I am confident we will develop a positive solution," Faber said.  

The lack of a process for reconsidering historical naming decisions and memorials was highlighted after recent social media posts drew attention to an ISU plaque honoring former student William T. Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx City Zoo. In 1906, Hornaday set up a zoo exhibit in which a Congolese man, Ota Benga, was displayed alongside an orangutan. After protests, the zoo closed the exhibit, but Hornaday was unapologetic.

"Hornaday’s actions and attitudes that he expressed in response to the controversy are indefensible, reprehensible and racist," Wintersteen said.

A bronze plaque recognizing Hornaday's contributions to conservation was dedicated on campus in 1926. As an interim step, the plaque has been removed from the rock where it was mounted just south of LeBaron Hall and is being stored in university archives at Parks Library. The University Library will research the reasons it was created to help better understand Iowa State history. The library also will play a crucial role in the review of all naming decisions.

"Our university archivists, where possible, will provide the review of honorific naming on campus with records that document the historical naming process," said Hilary Seo, interim library dean. "These materials and decisions around renaming will remain part of the archival records and history of ISU, attesting to the racism that permeates society and how the university responded to its own historical involvement and complicated past."

A permanent decision about the plaque, and the honorary ISU master's degree he received in 1903, will come after the renaming policy is adopted. 

"The policy developed will allow us to examine the Hornaday plaque and other historic naming and honoring decisions in a consistent and well-thought-out process with well-defined standards that can be applied when issues arise," Wintersteen said.