Towson University seeks to remove names of Carroll, Paca from dorms

Among the nation's Founding Fathers, they were also prominent slaveowners in Md.

Johanna Alonso//May 12, 2021

Towson University seeks to remove names of Carroll, Paca from dorms

Among the nation's Founding Fathers, they were also prominent slaveowners in Md.

By Johanna Alonso

//May 12, 2021

Three Student Government Association administrations have requested the name change, according a letter from the university’s president, Kim Schatzel. (The Daily Record/File Photo)
Three Student Government Association administrations have requested the name change, according to a letter from Towson University President Kim Schatzel. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Towson University has submitted a request to rename two residential halls, named for prominent historic Maryland politicians who were slaveowners, after convening a committee to review the names last summer. On Wednesday, the Board of Regents Committee on Advancement unanimously approved the request, which will now move on to the full board.

The Paca House and Carroll Hall Naming Review Committee, which was composed of students, staff, faculty and alumni, unanimously agreed that the dormitories, named for two signatories of the Declaration of Independence, William Paca and Charles Carroll, should be renamed. The committee stated that Paca House and Charles Hall are inconsistent with Towson’s naming criteria, which seeks to ensure that names on campus are consistent with the university’s values.

The committee cited two clauses in the university’s naming policy that contradicted naming dorms after slaveholders; one takes into consideration an individual’s “activities/opinions as they relate to diversity and inclusion” and the other considers “unethical, immoral and illegal behavior of an individual.”

“While the owning of enslaved people was legal in the colony and state of Maryland during both Carroll’s and Paca’s lives, there were many, even among the slaveholding elite, who had begun to express doubts about the morality of slave holding during that era. There is no evidence that either Carroll or Paca shared these doubts,” the committee wrote in its findings.

Paca and Carroll were some of the most prominent Marylanders of their time. Paca, born in 1740, was an Annapolis lawyers, a legislator, a delegate to the Continental Congress, a judge appointed by George Washington and the third governor of Maryland, serving three consecutive terms in that role. He also contributed to the writing of the state’s constitution.

Carroll served in the state Senate and the Continental Congress, and later became Maryland’s first United States senator. As a businessman, he was a wealthy planter who owned tens of thousands of acres of land, as well as the founder of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. He also served on the first board of directors for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Both were strong advocates for American independence.

A 2015 communication regarding the naming of Carroll Hall showed that the men had been chosen to fit the theme of “historic/famous Marylanders” being used to name Towson’s West Village residence buildings. Other halls in West Village include Harriet Tubman House, Clara Barton House, Frederick Douglass House and Thurgood Marshall Hall.

But according to the committee’s review, Carroll and Paca were also “among those who owned the largest numbers of slaves here in the state of Maryland.” At the times of their deaths, Carroll owned between 400-500 and Paca owned over 100 enslaved people.

All three of Towson’s governance bodies — Academic Senate, Staff Senate and the Student Government Association — unanimously supported the committee’s recommendation to rename the halls.

Student activists have been pushing for the dorms to be renamed for years, and three Student Government Association administrations have requested the name change, according a letter from the university’s president, Kim Schatzel, to the Committee on Advancement. A petition also circulated among students and other members of the community in February of 2020, garnering nearly 9,000 signatures.

But it wasn’t until June of last year that the students’ demands gained traction.

“There was a social media post on the Towson Instagram, a Black Lives Matter social media post after the killing of George Floyd, and I remember a lot of students were commenting, ‘but we still have buildings named after slaveowners,’” said Sarah Fishkind, a rising junior studying political science, who is also a member of Tigers for Justice, a group that advocated for the buildings’ names to be changed. “I think that’s when Towson was like, ‘we really have to do something about this.’”

Soon after, Schatzel announced the formation of the review committee.

Protests against police brutality against Black people have led numerous other colleges across the United States to rename buildings and programs that honored prominent historical figures who had participated in slavery, segregation, racism or sexism. In the report, the committee cited, among others, Princeton University, which last year stripped the name of 28th president Woodrow Wilson, who was also a president of the university, from its School of Public and International Affairs and one of its residential colleges

In addition to concerns about the namesakes themselves, the committee also found deficiencies in the original naming processes for those residence halls. The University Senate, which, at the time, was Towson’s shared government organization, was not consulted in assigning the dormitories’ names, nor did there seem to be any significant consultation with the campus community at large.

Additionally, neither Paca nor Carroll has any direct connection to the university.

This is the first time a university system has formally requested a name change for a building or program since the USM voted to amend its naming policy in November of 2020. The policy now includes an appendix that provides guidance on how an institution can change or remove the name of a facility or program, while specifying that that these name changes should be “rare,” and that the rationale for them must be both “well-researched” and “compelling.”

When Paca House and Carroll Hall were first named in 2008 and 2015 respectively, Towson University had not yet established its own naming policy, which went into effect in the fall of 2017.

“I’m very happy that now they’re actually deciding to do something. I am disappointed that it’s taken this long … and just the fact that these buildings were named after slaveowners in the first place,” Fishkind said.

The full Board of Regents will most likely vote on the request to rename the halls at its next meeting on June 17, though that meeting’s agenda is not yet set in stone. Once the full Board of Regents has voted, the process of removing the existing names will be complete.

Towson University will then get to work searching for a new name, Schatzel told the Committee on Advancement; the new names, too, will need the board’s approval.



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