By Daniela Rodriguez
Purchase College takes pride in being an institution of inclusion and acceptance; a place where people from all walks of life come together to study and celebrate the liberal, visual, and performing arts.
However, many students believe that is not entirely true.
Student leaders, along with the rest of the student body, do not hesitate when it’s time to voice their concerns and demand change. Renaming the residential hall Central, most commonly inhabited by first-year students, is one of the most recent examples of the power they hold.
“The conversation emerged from a class that I was teaching,” said Samuel Galloway, a political science professor and faculty advisor of the political science club. “We were reading a fantastic book by Robert Jones Jr. called ‘The Prophets’ which was set in a plantation.” In said book, the author refers to Big Haus as the slave owner’s residence inside an Antebellum plantation.
The text sparked conversations about the adequacy of the dormitory’s name and the relevance of the history of the land the college was built on.
But students didn't stop at dialogue. With the help of the political science club, the PSGA, and members of the faculty, they were able to get rid of the name Big Haus and bring awareness to a history that is unclear to many.
Lisa Keller, a professor of history, says the land used to be an ‘estate’ owned by Thomas Thomas, a revolutionary war hero. According to a research project led by Quincy Campbell, a senior in the Film B.F.A program, Thomas, along with his brother John Thomas Jr, owned 13 slaves during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
While researching, Campbell was able to identify and record the names of the enslaved people owned by Thomas.
Having easily accessible records is a top priority to the political science club and its president, Tristen Tomlin, a senior in the political science department. Tomlin says that the club is working on creating “a digital archive of student work, both artistic and academic, that focuses on what the history means to students.”
Another big project Galloway and the political science club want to carry out is the revision of a previous statement regarding enslavement published on the school’s website, which was taken down over a year ago due to student demand. Tomlin says the club wants to “create a group of faculty and students to draft language, so we can talk about the history as we understand it now.”
“We were very much aware that changing the name of a dorm was a symbolic move,” says Galloway. “But we [political science club] wanted to pursue other substantial changes on campus as well.”
Some students, such as Joshtinia Maynard, a sophomore in the psychology department, are waiting to see more progress. “ I definitely think it was important to change the name,” she says. “But I’m scared that the administration thinks it was the end.”
Tomlin, however, seems to have quite a different outlook on the situation. He says “I think that it [the process of renaming Big Haus] shows that students can get the administration to make necessary changes for the student body to feel more comfortable.”
The political science club is just one example of the many student-led groups at Purchase that are committed to making this campus a more inclusive and accepting place.
“I think Purchase has the opportunity to lead the debates, to lead as a national example of how colleges address this ‘unwanted history’ in a way that builds and strengthens a diverse community,” said Galloway.