Students, Alumni Square Off Over MTSU Hall Name

Posted at 10:40 PM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 23:40:05-05

Exchanges were heated Tuesday at the first public forum to help decide whether to change the name of Forrest Hall on the Middle Tennessee State University campus.

The ROTC building was named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest more than 50 years ago. But many students are advocating for a name change due to Forrest's affiliation with the early Ku Klux Klan.

The debate was brought up a few years ago but was reinvigorated after the Charleston church shooting over the summer. Gunman Dylan Roof attacked a historic African American church, killing nine people. Roof said he had hoped to incite a race war and the shooting spree spurred a large movement against the Confederate Flag, leading South Carolina to remove it from state grounds and several retailers to remove it from store shelves.

MTSU announced the decision to create a task force to deliberate on the issue months ago. Tuesday was their first public forum, where task force members listened to people speaking both for and against a name change.

The arguments for changing the name were mostly made by current students. They spoke about racism, hatred, the KKK and modern values.

"Every day I'm supposed to walk around here, I'm supposed to feel true blue. However I can't because every day I'm forced to walk past a building name for a man who traded, sold and killed my ancestors," said one MTSU student at the forum.

The arguments for keeping the name were made by mostly alumni and community members. They spoke about the value of history and many said there are more important issues to worry about.

"The very well-intended people who claim to be offended will have no reason to discover why they're offended if there's no name on the building," said a man opposed to the name change, "this is how dictators and repressive governments and terrorist groups gain power. They create a vacuum in history that's denied."

All the opinions will be taken into account by the task force before they make a recommendation.

"We want community engagement," said task force chair Dr. Derek Frisby, "this building is the community's building, it's not just a campus building. And the more people who have input the better our decision will be."

There will be a few more public forums scheduled after Winter Break.

The task force plans to make a recommendation in the spring to either change the name, keep the name, or keep the name and add historical context to the building. That task force is made up of student leaders, staff and community members.