Columbia University in New York will rename a student dormitory that bears the name of a slave owner, its President Lee C. Bollinger announced on Friday.
Bard Hall, a dormitory for students at the university’s Irving Medical Center, was named for Samuel Bard, an 18th century physician who served as George Washington’s doctor and founded what is now Columbia’s graduate school of medicine, the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
He was also a slaveowner.
Citing the first U.S. census in 1790, Bollinger said Bard owned three slaves. The Columbia University and Slavery exhibit website includes a 1776 ad posted by Bard in the New York Gazette, in which he promised a $10 reward for the return of a fugitive slave.
Bollinger said a group was convened in June to consider campus building names and symbols associated with matters of race. As part of an ongoing review, the committee made an unanimous recommendation to rename Bard Hall.
The change “feels urgent not only for the individuals who have been asked to call Bard Hall home, but for the many students, staff, and faculty in the broader Columbia community,” Bollinger wrote.
“Of course, we cannot, indeed should not, erase Samuel Bard’s contributions to the medical school,” he added. “But we must not recall this history without also recognizing the reason for our decision to rename Bard Hall.”
The building will be honored with a name that represents the university’s values. Bollinger said it will be announced during the fall term.
The change comes as other institutions and cities have changed or removed links to historic figures with ties to slavery and the Confederacy, as many take a hard look at the nation’s racist past amid nationwide unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.
Dr. Raymond Givens, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia, started a petition earlier this year calling for the removal of Bard’s name from the dorm and from the Samuel Bard Professorship of Medicine. It’s unclear whether the professorship will also be renamed.
“No University can claim it values Black lives while forcing Black students to live in a building named for a slaveowner,” he wrote on the petition, which received over 1,000 signatures.
“No longer will Black students and staff have to live and work in a building that reminds them to know their place,” he wrote in an update following Bollinger’s announcement. “This is just the prelude to more substantive changes.”
Since protests in late 2015 over legacies of racism on college campuses, universities including Yale, Georgetown, Harvard, Brown, Princeton and Duke have been forced to begin addressing their ties to slavery and racism.
In 2017, Georgetown University renamed two buildings that honored proponents of slavery, giving them names that instead paid tribute to Black figures, including one of the 272 slaves sold to fund the university.
Earlier that year, Yale announced that it would rename a college that honored former Vice President John C. Calhoun, a white supremacist who strongly advocated for slavery.
Clarification: Language has been adjusted to reflect that Calhoun was not a vice president of Yale.