Benjamin Joffe is a sophomore political science major and a USG Senator.
Taking a walk around Stony Brook University’s campus, the steps taken towards fulfilling its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusivity are abundantly clear. The LGBTQ*, UNITI Cultural and Interfaith centers are just a few examples of resources around campus that aim to facilitate student inclusivity.
But walk south of the Academic Mall and one finds Sanger College in Tabler Quad. While immediately appearing to be another copy-paste residential building, the context surrounding the woman it is named after reveals a darker, more disturbing history, one that compromises Stony Brook’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.
Understanding the legacy of Margaret Sanger, whom the building is named after, would quickly show how having a building named in her honor would undermine the University’s mission of establishing an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Founder of Planned Parenthood, Sanger was a pioneer in sexual liberation, abortion and contraception access and freedom of speech, who worked alongside co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People W. E. B. Du Bois to sponsor a clinic in Harlem staffed by Black doctors.
She was also a fierce eugenicist, who frequently called on the sterilization and segregation of people who were physically or intellectually disabled, and supported Buck v. Bell, a Supreme Court case that allowed states to sterilize those deemed “undesirable” without their consent, leading to over 70,000 being sterilized.
In a 1921 publication, Sanger stated that “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” For Sanger, the only way for society to move forward was for the sterilization of all people who were physically or intellectually disabled.
History has taught us the devastation and pain views such as Sanger’s can lead to when put into practice. The Nazis held similar sentiments, and by 1941, they had killed an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.
Clearly, Sanger’s views on eugenics, ableism and supremacy inherently clash with Stony Brook’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. But what’s next? Is calling out her repugnant views, followed by a pat on the back, enough?
As stated in the guidelines for renaming buildings on campus, “Naming campus spaces for an individual or an organization is a high honor that forges a special link between the namesake and the University.”
Indeed, this is true. But doesn’t keeping a building name like Sanger honor them and their impact on society on behalf of the University?
So, to stop honoring Sanger’s legacy of eugenicist views, like Planned Parenthood itself has done in branches around the nation, Sanger College must be renamed.
Renaming Sanger wouldn’t “erase history,” as is often stated in reaction to renaming and removing hateful places and statues around the nation. Rather, it will cease honoring and dignifying hate, and reaffirm the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
What would the process that goes into renaming a University building look like? The answer: complicated, bureaucratic and often disheartening.
On Sept. 20, 2020, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Judith B. Clarke, Ph.D. announced via email the creation of the Renaming Buildings, Structures and Spaces Ad Hoc Committee.
Its mission is narrow, focused, and well-defined: to analyze renaming proposals presented to the committee and provide recommendations on how the University should proceed.
A year later, the committee has yet to convene, and no new information has been released after the initial email was sent. It remains unclear whether new information regarding this committee will be provided.
A procedural manual for this committee’s governance exists, yet no information is provided on how formal requests are to be submitted.
Until the proper channels for how a request is received and brought before an assembled committee are established, this process is at an impasse.
Any call for renaming a space on campus will be redirected to the Renaming Committee, which has no means of receiving a request and will therefore land at a dead end.
By not addressing efforts to rename Sanger College, they remind students that the University is content with honoring someone who wishes people with disabilities didn’t exist. That is unacceptable and completely undermines the mission of the University.
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This committee’s failure to receive requests is a University failure. This is not a criticism of Clarke or any other member of the administration; instead, I hope they will recognize my faith in Stony Brook’s dedication to equality because of this message.
Progress is never easy, but I am confident that with such a powerful community of supporters, Stony Brook students will continue to fight for what is right: upholding the University’s ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.