The Cornell Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the name of the Cornell Plantations to the Cornell Botanic Gardens Friday after 72 years under the former title.
The name change follows a more than two-years-long initiative by Christopher Dunn, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds director, to find a name that better describes the gardens and avoids the “negative and painful connotations” of the plantations name that has been in place since 1944.
Cornell’s Black Students United, in a November 2015 letter to former president Elizabeth Garrett and Vice President Ryan Lombardi, demanded that Cornell “change the name of the Cornell Plantations as soon as possible.”
Dunn said the concern of BSU and other campus groups added fuel to an initiative he had proposed in his first interview for the director job, when he was still at the University of Hawai’i.
“I feel like the door has opened for the future,” Dunn said minutes after the trustees voted. “I think we were somewhat limited, in terms of our ability to really connect people with plants and gardens, by the name, and [the change] feels liberating.
“We’ve been the Cornell Botanic Gardens for 12 minutes and it feels great,” he added.
The gardens are one of the five largest gardens in North America, Cornell said in a statement, and are home to 50,000 plants as well as 3,400 acres of natural area preserves.
Dunn said that during the job interview for his current director job, he asked Cornell leadership about the history of the name and the potential for changing it.
“When I was hired, I was given the encouragement to pursue it,” Dunn said. “We wanted good justification and good support for a change, not just a knee-jerk reaction to one thing or another.”
The two-year process included focus groups, surveys and internal polling of 2,700 stakeholders’ reaction to nine potential new names for the gardens.
In August, the results came back from the surveys and focus groups, with Cornell Botanic Gardens leading the pack.
“That’s when things really took off,” Dunn said, and the University began preparing for the name change.
Dunn said one problem with the former name, in addition to the slavery connotations of the word “plantation,” is that it was inaccurate term to describe the Cornell gardens.
Plantations are large swaths of land, dominated by a single crop that is harvested and sold, Dunn said. That name, Dunn said, was a poor description of the diversity that Cornell’s gardens include.
Cornell has already acquired a website, cornellbotanicgardens.org, although it is not yet active, and the University says a new logo is being drafted. New signage will also be installed by spring 2017, according to a statement from Cornell.