Name change suggested for Rutgers due to namesake’s history as a slave owner
There are some people suggesting that Rutgers University change its name because it was named for Henry Rutgers, who was a slave owner.
The issue was first brought up by the Scarlet and Black Project, which according to its website is a historical exploration of the experiences of African and Native Americans at the university.
This comes as the topic of systemic racism in the United States comes into focus following the death of George Floyd. Students at the university also started a petition earlier this month calling for the school to rename three of its buildings named for slave owners and anti-abolitionists who were once presidents of Rutgers.
Reaction to the suggestion of changing Rutgers’ name was mixed among the students.
“I don’t know if changing the name is the right approach, because it’s erasing history and if you do that history could repeat itself,” said one student.
“It should be changed if [Henry Rutgers] was a slave owner, in fact,” said another.
Gov. Phil Murphy was asked about the issue on Monday. He said that he has not been asked that question before and declined to offer his opinion, but added, “It seems to me that we ought to be able to get to a better place. If there are symbols, statues, names that somehow separate us as a society, somehow offend people.”
News 12 New Jersey reached out to the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP about the issue. Officials said that they have heard about the topic, but were not ready to provide comment.
A spokesperson for Rutgers tells News 12, “We fully expect that racial and social justice will be at the top of President [Jonathan] Holloway's agenda and expect that that process will include a review of all of the work done by the Scarlet and Black Project, which looked at Rutgers' history including the relationship of its founders to indigenous peoples and to slavery."
Several towns and universities in New Jersey have removed names of historical people who have been linked to slave ownership and discriminatory practices, such as Christopher Columbus and Woodrow Wilson.