About 25 students and alumni spoke out in support of renaming the building at the public forum held this morning in the FSU law school's BK Roberts Hall. While the support for the renaming was overwhelming, a couple speakers argued against the change. The speakers were about evenly split between whites and blacks; mainly FSU law students with one alumnus.
The main theme of most comments was that BK Roberts name on the building was inappropriate given his past support of segregation, notwithstanding his good deeds and his efforts to get the law school up and running. Opponents stressed changing the name now would be a misguided attempt to erase or rewrite history, or take away a tool for teaching and learning from the past.
Several black law students noted that they made the decision to attend FSU because of information disseminated by the law school indicating blacks would be welcomed. However, once they became students and discovered BK Roberts's history of defending segregation (not mentioned during orientation or recruiting), the message seemed contrary to being welcome and made them feel like outsiders. The name gives them the feeling black people don't matter at FSU, and gives the impression that BK Roberts's segregationist views are synonymous with those of FSU.
Some students pointed out that BK Roberts deserved some sort of recognition such as a plaque inside the building, but his name on the building was bestowing too high an honor on an undeserving person. Others pointed out the name makes FSU seem like it is anti-minority and opposed to inclusiveness, and will keep people of color from coming to FSU in the future.
A few students felt misled by FSU, observing that before committing to attend the law school they reviewed several schools and crossed some off the list due to perceived links with past racism, but that FSU seemed acceptable since the school was welcoming and that prominent black alumni who represented people like Trayvon Martin were part of FSU's recruiting sales pitch. These students felt duped once they committed to FSU and discovered only after the fact that the school building was named for a prominent segregationist.
The school alumnus who spoke noted he was at the dedication ceremony for BK Roberts Hall in 1974 but that his segregationist past was not mentioned as part of the official ceremony, and those who tried to bring up the subject were ostracized and subjected to ridicule. He felt BK Roberts name on the building today diminished the law school and its reputation. He also noted that when it was created in 1966, FSU essentially stole FAMU's law school since the line items in the state budget were simply transferred from the closing FAMU school to the opening FSU school.
The two students who spoke against the renaming acknowledged BK Roberts's dark past but one thought it was improper to rewrite history and a better solution would be to keep BK Roberts name on the building and balance it out by naming the adjoining library building for Virgil Hawkins. The second felt removing Roberts's name was an ill-advised effort to bury the past and it would be better to keep the name and use it as a teaching tool to help current students learn about the need to fight racism. Other students countered that changing the name would not bury history, but would be making new history, and that FSU itself had changed its name several times over the years to keep abreast with changes in society and its student body.
The committee held another town hall meeting at the FSU Alumni Center Tuesday 2/27 and speakers also testified overwhelmingly in favor of changing the name of BK Roberts Hall, with only one of about 15 speakers defending the status quo. Most speakers at this meeting, however, addressed the problems with honoring Francis Eppes, a former slave owner credited with founding FSU in the 1800s and now the subject of controversy after the criminology building was named for him and a statue of him was erected near the Westcott Building in his honor. BK Roberts was not the main focus of the discussion, though I did speak for 10 minutes about why the law school building should be renamed.