University of Texas at Arlington Students Fight for Change of Buildings Named after Hereford, Woolf | Dallas Observer

Education

Students Fight To Change 2 Building Names at UT Arlington

Some UT Arlington students say the names of two buildings honor "racist" past officials.
Some UT Arlington students say the names of two buildings honor "racist" past officials. Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash
In 2021, the University of Texas at Arlington changed the name of a building honoring E.E. Davis, a former dean who was also a virulent eugenicist and segregationist, among other unfortunate descriptors. Students argue that it’s now time to give the same treatment to two other UTA structures.

Mark Napieralski, a leading member of the Progressive Student Union, is pushing for the school to rechristen buildings named after previous college presidents Ernest H. Hereford and Jack R. Woolf.

It’s the latest example of a broader nationwide push to ditch remnants of a prejudiced past. Confederate monuments have been dismantled in Dallas and other North Texas towns, and buildings with links to the country’s history of slavery and segregation have been renamed.

The way Napieralski sees it, it’s time for the university to fully own up to its promise of being welcoming to all. UTA’s website touts the school’s spot as No. 5 on the national undergraduate diversity index.

A Progressive Student Union protest in October saw demonstrators pressuring the school to change the building names and to relocate a bust of Hereford, according to university paper The Shorthorn. That month, the group introduced two resolutions about the proposed changes.

UTA records indicate that Hereford was president of the school — then called Arlington State College — when the student body chose in 1951 to adopt a “Rebel school spirit theme.” Rebel flags were flown at events and on campus, the mascot was “Johnny Reb” and mock slave auctions were held amid “Old South week,” which featured white students painted in blackface.

Hereford's administration also allowed a student organization to use the name “Kampus Kadet Klub,” Napieralski said, noting the “KKK” acronym.

After Hereford died in late 1958, Woolf took the reins, “consolidating and centralizing the [school’s] Confederate theme,” Napieralski said. He added that Woolf was a segregationist who regarded the eventual integration of the school “with regret.”

Despite desegregation, Woolf’s UTA continued with racist traditions, including blackface student skits, The Dallas Morning News reported last October.

Napieralski’s group wants to see a building renamed after the late community organizer Fahim Minkah, who reportedly studied law at UTA and fought to eliminate the college’s Rebel theme.

“Without Fahim Minkah, more than likely, we would have been the Rebels for, if not a few more years, potentially up until now,” Napieralski said.

"If you can rename the institution, you can certainly rename buildings." – Dr. Michael Phillips, historian and author

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He also thinks that students are closer than ever to having a say in the matter. This comes as schools and universities in Texas and elsewhere face reckonings over traditions with racist ties, such as UT Austin’s controversial “Eyes of Texas” school spirit song.

A UTA spokesperson said via email that in 2018, a task force was assigned to examine Hereford’s tenure following student complaints.

“After research of university archives, newspaper clippings and other documents, the task force did not find evidence that Dr. Hereford was directly responsible for the allegations against him and therefore did not recommend any change to the building’s name,” he continued, adding that the same task force came to a different conclusion when it came to Davis.

Davis certainly wasn’t shy about his views. In his 1940 book, The White Scourge, he touches on the state’s cotton agricultural economy and refers to people of color and poor whites as unintelligent and “worthless human silt,” according to The Shorthorn.

Michael Phillips, a historian and author of White Metropolis, also attended UTA and had a good experience. He said that while he was a student there, he didn’t think about the names of the buildings but later learned of the upsetting history of their inspirations.

Phillips and independent scholar Betsy Friauf, to whom he’s married, penned a 2018 column for The Shorthorn exposing Davis’ support of eugenics. (The prior year, he co-authored an article in the Morning News advocating for the removal of Dallas Confederate monuments.) After that, he said, Napieralski picked up the baton and helped to lead the student effort to have the name nixed.

What was once called Davis Hall now bears the bland but far-less-divisive title, “University Administration Building.”

Critics have argued that changing a name or removing a monument is a way of erasing history, but Phillips disagrees.

“UT Arlington has had eight different names during its history,” he said, “and if you can rename the institution, you can certainly rename buildings.”

Both he and Napieralski hope that the university grants the students’ demands. To them, it’s long overdue that the school stop “whitewashing” its past.

“We can't change Hereford,” Napieralski said, “but what we can change is whether or not we prop him up as … a memorial.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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