Cornell has announced that a process is underway to rename the plantations the "Cornell Botanic Gardens."

Michaela Brew / Sun Senior Editor

Cornell has announced that a process is underway to rename the plantations the "Cornell Botanic Gardens."

August 26, 2016

University Proposes Renaming Cornell Plantations the ‘Botanic Gardens’

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Last November, members of the group Black Students United demanded that the University acknowledge the racial connotations of the name Cornell Plantations and apply a more inclusive term to Cornell’s gardens and arboretum. On Thursday, the director of the Plantations announced that he will be recommending the Board of Trustees rename the 3,500 acre area the Cornell Botanic Gardens, because the word “plantations” does not reflect its biodiversity.

BSU’s original demand for the name change came as part of a series of grievances over what they said was a campus culture that is “not conducive to the overall success of of students of color.” While the University did acknowledge that its exploration of alternative names aimed to find a term that “fits the mission, vision, values and brand” of Cornell, most of their reasoning was focused on the semantic implications of the word “plantations” as it relates to plant life.

“A botanic garden is all about showcasing the rich diversity of the plant kingdom. How can you have a plantation that is a botanic garden? It’s a non sequitur,” said Christopher Dunn, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations, who said he has spent the last two years exploring the possibility of a name change.

The University also pointed to the length of the plantation’s brochure as evidence of the need for a name change. Printed over a photo of what the University’s press release called “an idyllic scene of marsh reeds flowing into a meadow and anchored by a majestic oak,” the Cornell Plantations logo is followed by a line reading “botanical gardens – arboretum – natural areas.” An apt name would require no such additional clarification, the release said.

BSU President Emerita Samari Gilbert ’17 said the organization’s members are all “all really excited” about the announced name change effort. “A name change has been a long time coming and generations of Cornellians will benefit from a more accessible space,” she said.

Renee Alexander ’74 associate dean and director of intercultural programs, student and academic services and advisor to BSU called Dunn a “change agent” and praised his collaborative work with members of the Cornell community in pursuing a change at the plantations.

“He identified key stakeholders, started a listening tour, asked critical questions and methodically began to put a plan together,” she said. “For all the right reasons  — and there are a number of them — we will move forward with a  rebranding campaign that positions Cornell as a progressive and thoughtful institution that is sensitive to all constituents’ needs.”

The administration said that this past January, a survey was distributed to thousands of “supporters” of the plantations, seeking feedback on the desirability of a rebranding effort. According to the University, three quarters of all respondents and approximately 80% of faculty, staff or Advisory Council respondents supported a name change. Most respondents preferred the name “Cornell Botanic Gardens,” the University said.

Dunn said that he communicated with parties including Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life; Renee Alexander, associate dean, student and campus life and Black Students United in working to amend the Plantation’s title. However, the University’s release only briefly mentions the “emotional response” of some students to the name of the plantations, which some say conjures images of slave and share cropping economies.

Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, sought to bridge the gap between acknowledging the area’s biodiversity and seeking to accommodate students who find the plantations’ title offensive, saying the rebranding not only “respects the richness of this great natural and scientific resource, it shows our full respect for the diverse and highly valued community of students.”

The release also noted that the leadership of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Employee Assembly and Interim President Hunter Rawlings have all voiced support for the name change.

“The name Plantations requires constant explanation, and just doesn’t fit a botanic garden and the scale of the work we do,” Dunn said.

Boor plans to present the proposed name change to the Building and Properties Committee of the Board of Trustees in early September. He expressed hope that the name will be permanently changed to the “Cornell Botanic Gardens” by October.

19 thoughts on “University Proposes Renaming Cornell Plantations the ‘Botanic Gardens’

  1. You mean it’s NOT a slaveholding operation? I had no idea — THANK YOU for changing the name and making that clear to me. (Ridiculous — just ridiculous.)

    George Lutz ’78

  2. A monstrous betrayal of generations of Cornell alumni attached to the Cornell Plantations. And for what? To appease a handful of crybabies who can’t read a history book or a map, given that they can’t tell the difference between the Cornell Plantations and an agricultural model practiced 150 years ago a thousand miles south of Ithaca. This university administration needs to start standing for something other than appeasement, retreat, and milquetoast nonsense. Can everyone just grow up now? The world doesn’t pander, and Cornell shouldn’t either.

    • “Monstrous betrayal?” Really? Sounds like someone needs more Metamucil. This isn’t the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn.

      I grew up in Ithaca, got two degrees from Cornell. I never really knew what to make of the name “Plantations”. As a straight white dude, the racial thing was never foremost in my mind (though the connotation is there) — what’s foremost in my mind is that the name on the box doesn’t describe what’s in it. Botanic garden is more accurate — I have no issue with that.

      I’d say they screwed up the handling of this, however. Should have taken the opportunity to get someone to give some money, and as part of that, rename it — “Plantations” becomes the “Joan Smith Botanic Garden”. It’s not a “monstrous betrayal” when we sell the naming rights to a rich person, for some odd reason.

  3. While they’re at it, they should separate the Arts Quad statues of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White to put an end to their misogynistic midnight meetings. I’ve never been so offended.

  4. I think we should rename Hunter Rawlings at the same time. ” Hunter” is offensive to innocent animals who are slaughtered as trophies by white, privileged males. Rawlings should be renamed “Searcher”, which has no violent overtones and no patriarchal assumptions of man’s supremacy over animals.

    Absolutely pathetic.

  5. For years (in the 70s), I thought the Plantations was where the Ag School did its field crop research. Had it been called the Botanic Gardens, I would have visited and enjoyed the area far sooner. It’s a sensible change.

  6. Just cause the African American slaves worked in the plantations doesn’t mean people in the US associate African Americans with plantations. You should focus on other civil rights problems African Americans face today rather than a “trigger warning”.

    This is ridiculous.

    Also, if you get trigger warnings from the name/word “plantation”, then you are nothing but a crybaby. US has a dark history of slavery, but doesn’t mean you don’t learn about the history because you will get a “trigger warning”.

    Only Cornell will entertain such shit. Meanwhile, UChicago told the students to go and deal with it because it is an university and people should be able to talk about “stuff” they are interested in. Cornell will never be as advanced of an university as its peers like Harvard, UChicago or Berkeley because Cornell allows whiny students to take over the academia and hinder the flow of academics.

    • I agree entirely. The idea that this name change soothes feelings about the Old South is nonsense, part of this safe word, trigger warnings b.s. Seriously you are talking about what is supposed to be an intellectual space where different ideas are exchanged, perhaps criticized but not watered down so no one gets agitated. One statement in the article saying that the result is that it “will benefit from a more accessible space,” is nonsensical. Whaaaa? And who determines what idea deserves a “trigger warning???” Go to the most sensitive soul? Leave the name alone. If people don’t have the interest to know what the place is, perhaps they also need to work on a sense on inquisitiveness overall.

  7. Pingback: Turning Its Entire Campus Into A Safe Space, Cornell Demonstrates Why It Is No University of Chicago | The Cornell Review

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  9. What about Goldwin Smith – the notorious anti-semite? Is anyone asking for the building’s name to be stripped?

    Ho Plaza?

  10. Pingback: Cornell plans to drop 'plantations' from name of its gardens – Alberto Acereda

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  13. Why don’t we name one third of all the buildings at Cornell after Nelson Mandela, one third after the Dalai Lama, and one third afte St Francis of Assisi?

    Yes, as many as two thirds of Cornellians might be offended by the names, but they could all retreat to their corners.

    Just when I have been praising the University of Chicago for abandoning “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”, Cornell rains on my parade.

    In the past I have always thought of my university (Cornell) and the Univ or Chicago as institutions with much in common. Meritocratic not aristocratic. Relatively serious places.

    I am afraid that U Chicago advances to the head of the class and my alma mater gets the dunce cap for this one.

  14. I would welcome the name change. I’m not offended or triggered by the current name (and I’ll point out that the only people to mention trigger warnings are people complaining that this shouldn’t be one — but nobody actually said it was), but I am a bit embarrassed about it. Any time it comes up, I have to use a long-form of “yeah, at the Plantations — but not that kind of plantation, it’s more in the original sense of just an area that’s been planted” and then put up with people giving me “uh, really, Cornell?” looks.

    To deny that “plantations” isn’t a loaded word is frankly absurd. Say the word to just about *anyone* who grew up in America, and the first thing they’ll think about is slave fields. Even if that wasn’t the original meaning of the word, it’s what the word means now.

    Cornell is the only Ivy with a motto in English. It was the first to be founded not as a seminary. We’ve always been a university whose identity came from moving away from pretensions of the past, and living instead in the present. So let’s do it, and instead of explaining “well you SEE, 150 years ago that term was generic…” let’s just change the name to describe what it is in today’s terms.

  15. Cornell is progressive and thoughtful. The renaming of Cornell Plantations to Cornell Botanic Garden captures it’s present meaning and mission it fulfills today. It is not a betrayal of past glory of the works done at the site. Alumni and present students I would think have the emotional intelligence to grow and adjust to remake, reinterpret the idea making Cornell unique to create an environment where study can be found at Cornell in any subject. Instead of nomenclature barriers Cornell has the capacity to reinvent itself decade after decade including change of names to fit the times.

    While students of a cultural ethnic group have been on the vanguard of a name change for years, their thinking in the spirit of inclusiveness, would offer a better regional, national and world view of Cornell. Our school as we should be is mindful of it’s place in the world and its attention to details as it markets itself to attract the best and brightest to its doors. The name change of the site is a nod to moving forward without losing its history, but an acknowledgement like any organization whose identity is fortified by its ability to grow and adjust its collective emotional intelligence.

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