Peter Lupfer is the head archivist at The Statesman and an editor at Stony Brook’s Undergraduate History Journal. Previously, he was The Statesman’s Sports Editor in 2018. This letter from the archives is a bit different than those we’ve run in the past — rather than connect past Statesman coverage and Stony Brook history with current events, Peter decided to examine a question from an alum about The Statesman’s past that, admittedly, even most current staff probably don’t know the answer to. This seems to be a piece of Statesman lore that has been lost through the generations here at the paper.
The Statesman has served Stony Brook’s campus community since the university’s first academic year as the State University College on Long Island at Oyster Bay. Just as the University’s name has changed in the decades since, The Statesman has also been rebranded several times.
Initially published as The Sucolian in February 1958, the paper became The Statesman on April 22, 1959. This early name change is common knowledge for the writers and editors who have contributed to The Statesman over the past 63 years. The end of The Sucolian represents the close of an important opening chapter in the history of this newspaper and journalism at Stony Brook, but the shift from The Sucolian to The Statesman is just the first of many (often more subtle) name changes that have transpired over the past six decades, as the publication evolved from an upstart monthly periodical into a more sophisticated and frequently published newspaper.
When the moniker The Sucolian was dropped in April 1959, the publication’s official name became The Statesman, as it’s known today. It would be easy to assume that this has been consistent through the years, but some generations of Stony Brook graduates will remember volumes when the paper was not The Statesman but instead simply, Statesman. I had noticed this slight modification throughout my time surveying the archives, but my interest in the topic was piqued thanks to the inquiry of Statesman alumna Joanne Summer. She explained that while she had inquired about this topic previously at reunions, she had not been able to track down a definitive answer.
The answer to this question is elusive for three main reasons. First, the list of instances when the paper’s name has changed is not short or contained to a single period of time. In fact, The Statesman’s name was fluid and ever-changing up until about a decade ago, when it assumed its current form. Over the course of the decade following the end of The Sucolian, the paper’s official name was altered at least five times with titles including The Statesman and The Stony Brook Statesman before settling on Statesman midway through Volume 12 in 1969.
Within these frequent changes lies the second element that complicates matters; whenever the name has shifted it has often done so with little to no public explanation. The roots of this issue run deep and extend all the way back to the end of The Sucolian in 1959. On March 23, 1959, the following announcement was published in Volume 2, Number 7:
Sucolian to Change Name
The newspaper staff has decided that it will benefit the school and the newspaper to change the name of the newspaper. Our status here in Oyster Bay is temporary and many changes will result from our move to Stonybrook. It is possible that the name of the College will be changed, the name SUCOLIAN will no longer be applicable.
All of us are used to our name and understand its meaning. Most outsiders confuse the pronunciation. A name which can’t be pronounced is one that will probably not be remembered.
In our attempt to establish a newspaper we are working hard to find a suitable name. The next issue of this newspaper will bear that name. Any suggestions from the students or the faculty will be appreciated. These should be given to the editor-in-chief before March 25.
The newspaper remained The Sucolian for its next release, the final edition under this name. The second-to-last issue of the academic year was the first as The Statesman. In the final release of Volume 2, an anonymous letter to the editor inquires about the reasoning behind the rebranding and how the new name was chosen. The letter reads:
Although the changing of the newspaper’s name, “The Sucolian”, was a good idea why, however, was the name “The Statesman” chosen? When looking at the paper’s heading, with the sketching of the state on it, one gets the impression that this is a paper of some organization which is in operation because its aims and functions are solely state concerned. Although, this can be partially attributed to this institution, the fact remains that this is State University College ON LONG ISLAND. If my recollection is correct, the original reason for the formation of this institution was that, with the enormous growth of Nassau and Suffolk there was no comparable growth of institutions of higher learning. Is it not also true that our student population is made up of approximately 90% Long Island students. Under these circumstances would not a name such as “The Islander” or something other than the present name of “The Statesman” be more appropriate?
The letter was not met with a formal response, but one of its arguments was indirectly addressed in the first edition of Volume 3. Whereas the header at the end of the previous volume had featured an image of New York State, newspapers moving forward now showcased Long Island in their header. This went on to become a common feature of The Statesman’s design in the decades to come.
A third commonality that exists in a majority of the newspaper’s name changes is inconsistency. Statesman remained the publication’s official name from 1969 until 1991, when a rebranding as Stony Brook Statesman occurred in Volume 34, Number 30. This marks the start of another period of identity turbulence; by the end of Volume 38 the paper’s header reads The Stony Brook Statesman and over the course of the next 12 years the paper continued to gradually transition towards its current name. In many ways, this transitional period came to a close on October 25, 2007. The newspaper’s header was adjusted to read “The Statesman: The Paper of Stony Brook University for 50 Years.”
Even still, it is difficult to refer to this edition as the moment when the paper’s modern name became concrete. Within this issue, the name The Stony Brook Statesman still appeared throughout the newspaper and it wouldn’t be until two years later that The Statesman was used consistently for all references to the publication.
Throughout editions from the 1960s there are cases of multiple names being used within a single publication, and this problem reemerges in the period of change after 1991. For example, Volume 37, Number 65 which was released on August 15, 1994 contains the names Stony Brook Statesman, The Stony Brook Statesman, and Statesman. Such inconsistencies make it difficult to pinpoint when exactly a name change occurs.
When you scan through the thousands of publications which link The Sucolian’s first edition to The Statesman’s most recent one, what you find is a story of change and adaptability. While such an in-depth analysis of the addition and subtraction of “the” from the paper’s name could appear somewhat trivial on the surface, it provides a glimpse into the nature of a college newspaper. Change is bound to happen with the frequent turnover rates inherent in this type of publication. Incoming editors and staff writers provide unique perspectives and ideas that will be usurped by those of their successors in just a few years’ time. Whether it was called The Sucolian, The Statesman, Statesman, or any other variation, though, what has remained constant is a dedication to high quality journalism.