On Friday, September 11, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted to rename the Curry School of Education and Human Development as the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. The revision drops the name of J.L.M. Curry, who, while one of the nation’s leading advocates for free, publicly financed education available to all children in the post-bellum period, contributed to the institution of enslavement, opposed integrated schools, and served the Confederate States during the Civil War.
The Board approved a total of five recommendations from UVA’s Racial Equity Task Force regarding changes to UVA’s historic landscape. Other approved changes include contextualizing the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the north side of the Rotunda; removing the George Rogers Clark statue; rededication, if possible, or removal, if rededication is not possible, of the Hume Memorial Wall; and removing the name Withers from Withers-Brown Hall at the UVA School of Law.
“My view, and I know this is shared by my entire leadership team, is that this moment offers us a unique opportunity to take action that will leave a lasting and positive impact on the university we all love,” UVA President Jim Ryan said Friday. “Actions that will make this place more clearly and obviously welcoming to all, and where all have an opportunity to thrive.”
The recommendations stem from a broader report from the Racial Equity Task Force, which Ryan created in early June to recommend actions to improve racial equity at UVA, amid national protests against racism, police brutality and longstanding inequity. Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kevin McDonald; Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Dean Ian Solomon; and Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant professor of urban and environmental planning and faculty director of the UVA Equity Center, led the task force.
The Board of Visitors also endorsed several other goals and recommendations stated in the report, and requested that University leadership develop a plan for funding, implementing and tracking progress on those goals.
The most recent changes, and the task force’s work, build on decades of activism and scholarship by UVA students, faculty, staff and community members and recent efforts to recontextualize UVA’s historic landscape, including, for example, the completion of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, the renaming of Ruffner Hall to Ridley Hall and Barringer Hall to Francis Collins Hall, a new dorm named after civil rights leader and beloved UVA professor Julian Bond and other additions to UVA’s historic landscape.
The vote on the School’s name was the final step in a process initiated by Dean Robert C. Pianta and the school’s leadership in 2018 to examine the legacies of J.L.M. Curry and William H. Ruffner, including their contributions to public education and their actions and beliefs regarding slavery and racial segregation, and to make an initial recommendation to UVA’s Committee on Names about whether to continue featuring their names on University facilities.
"As is the case at this University and in educational institutions across the country, illuminating the complete historical record and engaging the tensions inherent in the complexity and contradictions present in that record are important educational activities," wrote Dean Pianta in an email announcing the name change. "At this school of education and human development, part of our educational process involves recognizing our history and using that recognition to shape a better future. This includes self-reflection and inquiry that embrace the full scope of our work in the world, a process that not only expands our knowledge and awareness, but also clarifies values and aims. The naming review is one example of our evolution as a school and our commitment to a contemporary reckoning with history. Our arc of self-discovery did not start with the naming review. Nor is it where we will stop."