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.