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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Student senators host public forum for Huxley name change

Forum sought public opinion on debate to remove Huxley name from Western’s campus

An ad promoting the College of the Environment Forum on January 25, 2021.
An ad promoting the College of the Environment Forum on January 25, 2021. // Courtesy of Laura Wagner

By Verónica Angulo

College of the Environment senators Francis Neff and Laura Wagner hosted a virtual public forum to debate removing and replacing Thomas Huxley’s name from Western Washington University’s College of the Environment.

The Jan. 25 forum discussed the significance of attaching Huxley’s name to the college.  Huxley used racist language in his writing and supported white supremacist views, according to the senators. The student senators believe it is time for the university to separate itself from the Huxley name. 

“Keeping the name of a man who held white supremacist views [at Western] is unacceptable,” Neff said. 

Wagner shared a 12-page research document she compiled, which included quotes from Huxley’s essays, lectures and personal letters to family members. In his essay titled “Emancipation: Black and White,” Huxley stated that he thinks the average white man is superior to the average Black man.  

“Liz Rosales [a Western student admissions representative] just reached out to me yesterday and said that the Admissions Office is changing the tour guide script to now exclude the Huxley name and just say ‘College of the Environment,’” Wagner said.

Wagner and Neff were also accompanied by AS Senate Pro-Tempore Sargun Handa, who has supported the name change since 2020. Handa said she has received a lot of pushback from white faculty members who don’t believe Huxley was racist.

“We don’t believe that if [the decision to change the name] is approved, that we [Handa, Neff and Wagner] should be the ones to make that decision,” Handa said.“The senators believe that the decision should be left to the Western community to decide.”

The senators said they believe the College of the Environment should be named after a person of color relevant to the Western or Bellingham community.

“It should be someone who has made great strides in the area of environmentalism and/or sustainability,” Wagner said in an email to The Western Front. “It should be an outstanding Black or Indigenous person in that area of environmentalism either from the Whatcom County area (a Coast Salish tribe member would be cool), who was a WWU alum or just a worldwide recognized name.”

Other attendees of the forum included current Western students, alumni and faculty members, like environmental studies professor Gene Myers.

“This is the time to do it, name if there ever was one,” Myers said.

The Legacy Review Task Force, a group of nine people consisting of students, faculty, alumni, appointees by the President and representatives from the Board of Trustees and the Secretary of the Board, is a group designated to look into the names of buildings on campus and decide if they need to be removed. They are also due to give President Sabah Randhawa a recommendation about why the Huxley name should be changed by May 31. 

 “We will probably write a letter for the Legacy Review Task Force of things to keep in mind, or maybe send in some student and faculty statements,” Wagner said.

Although it is still uncertain what the new name of the College of the Environment may be, Handa and the College of the Environment senators are feeling positive that it could happen in 2021.

“Bellingham and Western are a great community with some of the most amazing people I have met, and the name should reflect that,” Wagner said. “We love and are proud of our community in the decision for who should represent our College of the Environment.”

1 COMMENT

  1. As a former Huxley student and neighbor since Huxley was located in Zimmerman House, I appreciate the advancement Thomas Henry gave to science in his time, and grant him some leeway in the context of his times. I support challenging racism where we see it, but also believe political correctness can be taken too far. There are more important corrections and foci of learning we can do, for less cost of time or $. Maybe dedicate a series of courses or lectures on local indigenous contributions to env’tal consciousness. Include Huxley’s, Darwin’s evolving ideas.

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