The University of Maryland prides itself on having an inclusive environment and celebrating diversity, but how can it with one of its main buildings being named after a well-known racist? It is almost ironic that Francis Scott Key Hall is home to the Department of History, yet the history of its name isn’t even taken into consideration.
Francis Scott Key is most famously known for writing the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” which ended up becoming our country’s national anthem. Key’s lyrics describe our country as “The land of the free” even though he was a slaveholder and active anti-abolitionist. So why does our campus have an entire building honoring him?
University of Maryland is not the only institution which has been caught in this controversy. After the killing of George Floyd this past summer an increase in the removal of statues across the country occurred, even inside the U.S. Capitol.
Acknowledging this trend of reconsiderations, University of Maryland’s President Darryll Pines updated the College Park campus to the recent University System of Maryland (USM) policy on renaming campus buildings. The updated policy took effect this past November and outlines the process for getting a building renamed. It emphasizes the importance of having legitimate research paired with support from the community. The process can be started by anyone on campus, but ultimately the proposal has to be turned over to the president for a formal review done by a chosen committee. If said committee agrees that a name removal is necessary, the review will be sent to the USM Board of Regents for a final decision.
Back in June of 2020, when the entire country had been reconsidering what statues they displayed and who their libraries were named after, Maegha Naraian, a senior animal science major, started a petition on change.org.
The petition to change the name of Francis Scott Key Hall was Naraian’sway of getting involved in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to a recent interview. She wanted to unite the UMD campus. As of March 1st, the petition had 62 signatures. Naraian posted the link on her social media accounts and sent it to her friends, who also shared it on their own accounts. In efforts to attract more members of our community, she said she reached out to former university President Wallace Loh but never got a response. You can sign Naraian’s petition here.
When asked why she chose to single out Key Hall, Naraian said that “focusing on one building one at a time would be more progressive rather than focusing on multiple.” She added that Francis Scott Key Hall has a very central location and widely known name, so using it as a starting point would be very impactful.