NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Even in this era where statues of explorers are being dismantled, schools named after presidents are being rebranded and sports teams are replacing racially insensitive nicknames, don't expect Rutgers to change its name.
The subject was raised to new university president Jonathan Holloway at a news conference on Monday at Winants Hall - the very building Rutgers' third Black student and eventual Civil Rights leader Paul Robeson slept.
Holloway, the first Black president in the university's history and as an educator who has made it his life's work to study African American history, left no room for ambiguity when asked if Rutgers would be renamed.
"We're not going to change the name of the university, I'm just going to say that right now," he said.
The university, established in 1766 as Queen’s College and eventually rechristened after Col. Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War hero and slave owner, might consider renaming buildings, Holloway said. But not the institution's name.
Holloway, who officially took over as university president from Robert Barchi on July 1, said any institution that has a legacy that predates the Emancipation Proclamation (1862) "is going to have slavery woven into it."
"The reason we're not going to change the name is because things have value that exceeds their existence," he said. "So in the case of the namesake, where are we going to find names if you go back historically speaking that don't have blood money related to them?"
Holloway, 52, said that although he now leads an institution of higher learning named for a slaveholder, it is not personally painful to him.
“If I were to walk around feeling bludgeoned by every name that I see that has a connection to racial slavery, I couldn’t get out of bed,” he said. “My existence, my humanity, my complexity cannot be reduced by the fact that Rutgers was slave owner. That’s his problem. That’s not mine.”
The call to rename the university comes as institutions named after historical figures and statues cast in their honor are being scrutinized like never before.
Protestors in Baltimore toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus on Sunday. Princeton University is taking Woodrow Wilson's name off its School of Public and International affairs after its board of trustees deemed that his racist views and polices make him an inappropriate namesake. Even the Cleveland Indians are considering a name change after phasing out their cartoonish Chief Wahoo mascot years ago.
When it comes to the widespread call for social justice and the need to root out institutional racism in the wake of George Floyd's death in May, Holloway promised to be active.
"Before the end of the summer, you're going to start hearing about various types of concrete changes we're putting in place," Holloway said. "A lot of them are going to be back office things, to be honest, the kind of things one would expect when a new president comes aboard. But, a lot of it will be in concrete measures when it comes to diversity. That's coming."