Some Cornellians have said the renaming of the Plantations is a poor method of addressing a lack of diversity on

Matt Hinsta / Sun File Photo

Some Cornellians have said the renaming of the Plantations is a poor method of addressing a lack of diversity on campus.

November 1, 2016

C.U. Repubs: Plantations Renaming ‘Oversensitive,’ Will Set Precedent

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After the Cornell Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the name of the Cornell Plantations to the Cornell Botanic Gardens on Friday, conservative student activists blasted the decision, calling it an unnecessary decision that sets a dangerous precedent.

Olivia Corn ’19, chair of the Cornell Republicans, said she does not think the renaming will affect diversity on campus, saying “most of the people [I have] talked to about the renaming do not have a strong opinion on it” and she does not believe “the name has prevented people from attending Cornell.”

Corn added that she found the decision to be an “example of some students being oversensitive,” although she acknowledged that she was not a person of color and could not speak to other groups’ feelings on the issue.

“It is ridiculous that the administration is more concerned with a name instead of the fact that it can’t house all of its students,” she said, citing other pressing issues facing University administration.

Austin McLaughlin ’18, executive director of the Cornell Republicans pointed out that the $150,000 needed for the renaming — to change the name on signs, publications and websites — could have been allocated to “something meaningful like enhancing socio-economic diversity and inclusion with financial aid to low and middle-income students.”

McLaughlin also questioned the motives behind the decision to remove the term “plantations” from the name.

“Cornell Plantations, 150 years and hundreds of miles removed from actual plantations in the antebellum south, never had any connotation [to] the institution of slavery,” he said.

He added that he believes the renaming sets a bad precedent for other institutions that include the word ‘plantations’ in the name.

“The full name of Rhode Island is the ‘State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,’” McLaughlin said. “Should we change the name of a U.S. state to appease this same group? Where does it end?”

The new name, the Cornell Botanic Gardens, was chosen largely to better reflect the diversity of the plants that it houses, according to Christopher Dunn, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations. Dunn has said he had been exploring the possibility of a name change for the past two years, both because of the connotations of the word “plantations” and due to a desire to better describe the area.

Black Students United — a group which urged renaming the plantations in its list of demands to the administration last November — viewed the newly proposed name favorably in August, when it was announced that the change would be presented to the Board of Trustees, The Sun previously reported.

Representatives of the organization said, at the time, that they felt that the racial connotations associated with the word “plantation” serve to make Cornell an inhospitable space for minority students.

Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and advisor to BSU, praised the collaboration between students and other members of the community, including Dunn, in achieving the name change.

“I’ve been framing [the renaming] as a seminal moment in the University’s history,” said Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and advisor to BSU. “Our students made the right moves and presented themselves as community members and collaborators to work through the change plan.

“A name change has been a long time coming and generations of Cornellians will benefit from a more accessible space,” said BSU President Emerita Samari Gilbert ’17 in August.
Multiple representatives from BSU did not respond to requests for comment on the board’s Friday vote.

  • ILR 2014

    As a democratic, I personally believe it’s oversensitive, but I also can’t relate.

    I’m happy to listen to the people who can comprehend. A simple name change doesn’t hurt me, nor the school. I’m fine with that.

  • dfsdf

    except it does hurt the school – $150,000. I agree with the article, i think its a waste of money to appease whiney students. And yes, I’m a minority.

    • Todd

      It’s not “to appease whiney students” [sic].

      The director of that institution had wanted to change the name for years, had conducted surveys and focus groups, and only later did student groups speak out in support of the change instigated internally.

      There’s no “precedent” here, beyond the authority for an institution to change its own name and for some people to agree with that change. And apparently, for other people with absolutely no stake in the matter to complain about it afterwards.

  • Recent Alum

    Do we have to make this a divided, partisan issue? Honestly, the Cornell Botanical Gardens is a more accurate name for the area in question. And the fact that our university has a botanical garden sounds amazing! Who wouldn’t want to live on a campus with a botanical garden? Botanical gardens around the world continuously serve as beautiful, wondrous places that attract millions of people. I understand that 150,000 dollars is being used to follow through with the name change, but realistically, that’s nothing. That’s the salary for a professor for one year, or 2.5 students receiving full financial aid for one academic year. I don’t think Cornell even blinks when they see 150,000 dollar price tags. Perhaps the attention the Botanical Gardens will subsequently receive will generate extra profit and offset the 150,000 dollars.

  • humec’15

    “The full name of Rhode Island is the ‘State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,’” McLaughlin said. “Should we change the name of a U.S. state to appease this same group? Where does it end?”

    This was preceded by a comment that the name plantations has no connection to slavery – however in the case of Rhode Island it certainly did. Newport, RI was one of the largest slave markets in the western hemisphere, and up to 11% of the state’s population were slaves in the 18th century. So yes, perhaps the state of Rhode Island should consider changing the name, as their plantation past was dependent on slavery.

    I think the rebranding could easily return $150,000 in value – solving issues like the housing shortage are obviously still priorities and can’t be fixed in one vote by the board of trustees.

  • Dan Greenberg

    I graduated in 1979. I grew up enjoying botanical gardens on Long Island and NYC, and enjoyed Cornell’s during my years in Ithaca. But I never felt the name made sense. And whenever I recommended a visit to family and friends they were confused by the word Plantations. To me the word Plantations implies a place that grows plants for sale, such as sugarcane, cotton or sorghum. Plantations certainly doesn’t sound scientific. I think Botanic or Botanical sounds more scientific and more prestigious while also implying a beautiful aesthetic park like experience.

    The name should be changed for these reasons alone. The term Plantations can be offensive to the decendants of slaves in the Americas. Being Jewish I am happy the name Adolf has fallen out of use, so I can understand the offensiveness of historical terms.