Many buildings in universities throughout the nation are named after people because of their percieved significant impact to warrant a dedication at the time of construction. However, in many of these instances, the people that are being honored have controversial pasts. These topics have become heated debates in recent years due to social unrest with our political past. An example of such upheaval includes the protesting of several monuments dedicated to confederate soldiers in North Carolina that resulted in the statues being torn down. We now see similar action being taken at Florida State University as the result of protesting and lobbying for the removal of B.K Robert’s name within FSU’s school of law.
Uncovering Robert’s past led to the outcry around changing the name of the main hall. Websites have even been created for the cause, one specifically named “Rename B.K Roberts Hall Now” has gained a lot of attention. According to the website, he had a significant role as he brought the law school to FSU and served as Florida’s state chief justice. However, in 1949 he used his position to prevent Virgil Hawkins, the school’s first potential Black law student, from gaining admittance. He was adamant about keeping FSU segregated despite any Supreme Court ruling. He spent his career ensuring that there would be no integration within Florida schools.
With the surge in attention and value to social justice issues seen in recent years FSU’s commitment to keep and create a safe environment in the school has been called into question. In the summer of 2018, President John Thrasher adopted a committee suggestion to rename the hall and left the decision to be made by the Florida legislature.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, three years have now passed and we saw that this past Tuesday (Jan. 19, 2021) the Florida legislature passed the decision to repeal the law that allowed the main academic building at the school of law to be named after the supreme court justice. This legislation passed with no resistance, the votes being counted at 4-0 by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. The decision was met with great support from Florida State University students and alumni as well.
This is not the only recent action that has been taken from FSU regarding symbolic dedications. They had also taken a statue of Frances Eppes off the premises due to the discovery that he owned slaves and sided with the confederacy. Uncovered as well as the fact that he was not the founder of FSU and therefore did not even deserve the recognition in the first place. FSU has kept a good track record in terms of listening to the voices and complaints of students who believe that there needs to be change and reform.
The current social climate has called for great progress and revision in our institutions and this has been reflected within events such as these. FSU is just one of the many public and private universities in the country that are faced with dilemmas such as these. There is the question of where to draw the line between displaying history versus bigotry. While these topics are still highly debated and controversial, FSU has kept with its message of no tolerance for racial injustice and prejudice which can be reflected in the removal of symbolic monuments such as the name of buildings and statues. The passing of this legislation is just one more step towards a more progressive direction.