COLOMBIA – Dawn Staley, the popular basketball coach for women at the University of South Carolina, joined current and former Gamecock athletes on Friday to call for the school's Strom Thurmond fitness center to be renamed into a special commission to remove race-insensitive names from campus buildings Trustee.
"If you don't say anything these days, you are part of creating what we all stand for," Staley said during a press conference outside the fitness center.
The push comes at a time when South Carolina college athletes are flexing their activist muscles. Much of the USC soccer team is joining the Black Lives Matter protests that took place earlier this summer and others who voted against the coronavirus pandemic.
Thurmond was a segregationist who ran for president on a platform against civil rights for African Americans in 1948 and continuously obeyed laws in Congress. There are also allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment that make him a problematic idol for many in Palmetto State, the athletes said.
While the USC board was ready to ask lawmakers to rename a dormitory whose namesake J. Marion Sims conducted medical experiments on slaves, they were hesitant about Thurmond.
But Staley said she thinks the young people who lead this latest movement will continue to seek change, sparked by the death of George Floyd on May 25 while in custody by Minneapolis police officers.
"I think this is the time to have an incredible amount of perseverance to continue these awkward conversations because they are awkward for some, but they are conversations that need to be held," she said.
Staley said she decided to stand up for players she coached who were active in the movement. Staley has grown louder since Floyd's death, and even argued with critics on social media over her endorsement of Kamala Harris as a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
"I stand here with them for change and I support what they believe in because change has to take place," said Staley.
The athletes argue that campus and state leaders cannot look at the good of Thurmond without properly weighing the bad.
Reigning Miss USA and former USC track star Cheslie Kryst said if he served today, the former senator would likely have been outed by sexual assault victims from the Me Too movement.
"There's no reason to keep his name if it wasn't a contender today," she said.
The group, which Krsyt is part of, and which is led by Congressional candidate and former Gamecock soccer player Moe Brown, said Thurmond has never publicly renounced the segregationist views he was known for, which goes against USC values.
"We need to stop this moment and demonstrate commitment to inclusion and diversity," said Brown. "The name Strom Thurmond must be removed."
Gamecocks senior athletics athlete Sam Silber said "the electricity," as students call it, is a big part of campus life.
"Imagine walking into a building where you know the guy whose name is on it didn't want to see you or people who look like you in this place," Brown said. "That burdens you."
Another athletics senior Kaden Briggs said the name change was high on the list of changes he'd like to see to make USC more inclusive.
"It's the beginning of something," he said.
The group also highlighted the fact that the $ 38 million center is largely funded by an activity fee. The building took Thurmond's name after giving $ 10,000 to build, and it was expected that he would reach out to his network of donors to raise more.
Others may not be ready to jot down the former senator's name right away.
"There will be different opinions," said I.S. Leevy Johnson, one of the first black lawmakers to be elected to the State General Assembly since the Reconstruction, and a member of the School's Special Commission on History. "I don't want them to interpret the disagreement as a group insensitive to what they advocate."
Johnson declined to comment further if reached after the commission meeting, but in the past he has been positive about Thurmond's political prowess despite his segregationist past.
The Presidential Commission on University History was formed "to study and better understand the history of the people whose names adorn our buildings and, more broadly, to capture the voices and contributions of forgotten, excluded, or marginalized groups and individuals who positively The foundation, maintenance and growth of our university contributed to this. "
Other buildings considered include the admissions office, library, and student housing, named after slave owners – Francis Lieber, Thomas Cooper, and James Henley Thornwell – as well as a dormitory named after Confederate General and KKK sympathizer Wade Hampton.
"I saw the divide in some of the names of campus buildings. My goal was to encourage and encourage open, open dialogue so that all views are expressed and considered," USC President Bob Caslen said in a statement. "I am pleased that this process has started."
However, the commission is facing the hurdle of legislative approval as well as Board of Trustees approval under the South Carolina Heritage Act, which requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to rename historic monuments, streets and buildings.
Legislators most recently had to overcome legislative requirements to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds after the racially motivated massacre of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.